Surveys of Florida Tech students have shown “extraordinary” interest in esports. So, in March 2021, the university launched its esports program and hired Dana Hustedt to translate that interest into a successful program that will usher Florida Tech into this growing and increasingly popular new facet of the collegiate experience.
In just a few months, the program has already made extensive progress, including the complete renovation and official opening of its Esports Center in September.
We caught up with Dana to discuss all things esports and what is on the horizon for the program.
Why bring esports to Florida Tech?
With esports on a college campus, it is about student body engagement—offering something that the students already like doing but in an organized manner, representing your university on the biggest stage. What better overlap than a STEM school and gaming? Since I’ve arrived on campus, the goal has been—and continues to be—elevating Florida Tech into an esports destination recognized not only by students, but nationally for our esports efforts, engagement and community outreach.
What is your role as an esports director?
In layman’s terms, it is like an athletic director but for esports. I am doing everything a traditional athletic director would do to propel the department to success: sponsorships, partnerships, marketing and advocating, running a facility, recruiting, budget management, employees, teams and travel. We content program, enter and train for competitions, broadcast our games, have seasons and off seasons. Esports can be competitive and leisure on campuses, and Florida Tech is offering multiple ways to get involved.
I do believe we’re going to do it the right way, which is comforting. Florida Tech wants to invest in this program—it wouldn’t be putting this building together and they wouldn’t have brought me to campus if they didn’t want to invest in the students and their interests
How does involvement in esports impact students’ academic performances?
Most people think there is a stereotype of gamers not being good in school, but it’s usually the opposite. We have some of the most intelligent students that come out of gaming and esports. Sometimes, it comes back to, “Did they apply themselves?” When they get the right people and leadership that empowers them and invests in them, they produce more results on the academic side.
Outside of an outlier here and there, I’ve only seen a positive impact of esports on the academics of every student I’ve had. They try harder because if they don’t, they let down their team. Again, like traditional sports or any team-style participation, if you’re ineligible, you don’t get to participate. We must set those precedents as program leaders. Many of us in the field have academic policies in addition to school policies. We must change the mindset, not only of administrators and parents, but even of the students themselves.
What would you say to Panthers who may be interested in esports but aren’t sure where they fit in?
Esports has a place for everyone! Whether you are a gamer or not, esports has career pathways, supporting roles, coaching, data analytics, design, production and broadcast, nutrition and player development, mental health and wellness and so much more for people to get involved in. Florida Tech Esports offers six ways to get involved:
- Competitive team
- Club team
- Esports Center open to all students
- Nonplayer roles
- Multilevel events/competitions
- Student employment
At your previous university, you became the first woman to lead a collegiate esports program. What was that like? Is it different now?
Most people saw me come into the industry as a female in a management and leadership position in a largely male-dominated space, which was not always heard of at that time. Now, there are very strong women and continued leadership of strong females in our space. Our impact and presence are important. We are setting an example for many of the women who are in STEM or who want to be part of esports, but they’re scared to say it at school or in public. This is their opportunity to do what they like and not feel judged. I believe esports is truly going to lead the way in many DE&I initiatives, and organizations are putting those statements into action. You can’t get better by surrounding yourself with people of the exact same views.
How is esports providing more diversity and inclusion opportunities?
Esports is not about physicality or how you identify or what degree you have (or don’t have!). Esports provides an outlet for many to find a community and a place they can be themselves. The esports community has many impactful groups, like the gameHERS, Gamers Outreach, Women in Gaming, Women of the eRena, Black Girls Code, LGBTQIA+IN Gaming, disabled gaming and specialized equipment initiatives, and general support of minority businesses, content creators and gaming personalities.
What is on the horizon for Florida Tech Esports?
We will be fielding competitive teams to represent us in national collegiate competition. In 2021-22, we will offer varsity League of Legends, Rocket League, Rainbow 6 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, plus more than 20 gaming titles and communities in our esports club. The goal is to represent in collegiate seasons, tournaments and travel and to become the best esports school in Florida.
We will continue growth of the university’s gaming community by engaging students, offering more extracurricular options and providing continued institutional support and pride of our teams and players. Since I’ve arrived on campus, the plan has been, and continues to be, to elevate Florida Tech to an esports destination and to be a place that is not just for Florida students, but is nationally recognized for its esports efforts, engagement and community outreach through summer camps, player development, middle and high school outreach, etc.