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Troy Chiefari is the Esports Head Coach at Ohio Northern University
Blazing to compete, Coach Troy is set to develop and grow young talent in very competitive region: the Midwest.
Animation Career Review: What are the esports in which your school participates?
Troy Chiefari: Game titles are League of Legends and Overwatch for Fall ‘19. Our first year doing esports at Ohio Northern University. In 2020 we’ll be adding a few more games that’ll most likely be BR games (Fortnite, PUBG, COD, APEX), Rocket League, Hearthstone, and possibly CS:GO or Rainbow 6 Seige.
ACR: If you offer esports scholarships, please describe your program (full ride, in-state only, etc)
TC: Partial Scholarship. Up to $2,000 a year and is meant to stack on academic scholarships.
ACR: Please fill us in on your recruiting efforts. How are potential students identified? Key stats? What can a student do to connect with your program?
TC: I send out a lot of emails using websites like berecruited.com. I have my program setup to have a place for all skill levels by having them do tryouts and also being a faculty advisor for a gaming club that houses the 3rd / 4th string teams. Emailing me is the best way and also filling out a form.
ONU Esports Website - My contact is on here
ACR: Esports are new to everyone. Please share with us the story of how your program came to fruition.
TC: Actually for us it’s not new. In terms of being the first bundle of schools to start we’re actually nearly 6 years behind. I think our university and many others coming into esports this late and all at the same time are going to see a trend of low recruiting numbers. Esports is so popular that if Ohio Northern was to ignore the trend students who were interested just wouldn’t come here. Costing the school hundreds of thousands yearly. I think a fully flourished esports department can house up to 500 students at this moment. As more games become “meant” for esports that number will rise. These numbers almost compete directly with athletics. So any school that ignores this trend is grossly incompetent, or just doesn’t like money.
ACR: Describe the type of student are you seeking?
TC: Good, productive, socially oriented people who want to forward their lives academically and interpersonally through this program. Hopefully, I get some prospects who want to compete at a high echelon as well since my passion truly is coaching. Though I’m more of a community manager at this position.
ACR: As esports are so new, what are the common misconceptions people have about them?
TC: This maybe isn’t a misconception but more of a rotating argument. Esports is going back and forth in the argument of being deemed a competitive “sport” as in on par with athletics. I think there’s some reasoning to blend esports into athletics but many more reasons to have esports be an independent entity. You wouldn’t put chess (if chess was more popular) into athletics and esports games are more along the line of an intellectual competition than an athletic one.
As for misconceptions, people tend to attach the same “gaming” stigmas to esports. Violence, waste of time, obesity and other health issues, and antisocial tendencies. Sure you can skew an argument to fulfill those motives but by the vast majority none of that is true.
ACR: What are the common concerns you hear from parents regarding esports participation?
TC: If they will still study. If this will still be a hobby or activity that will build them as a person. Things along those lines.
What I answer is with esports there’s a far greater opportunity to work on a wider range of skills than athletics would (Since a lot of parents compare an esports team to an athletic team). I see trends with student athletes playing their game less than they did at home because they’re mentally fatigued from practice and they want to do something else other than game, even study! Since they feel fulfilled with their time in the game that day, this notion comes from these student players wanting to feel like they progressed a bit in their learning curve to be good at their game. I give my players a lot of autonomy with their responsibilities just like the real world does. For example, their grades need to stay at a certain point to be on the team.
Instead of micromanaging them with study halls, I have them be dependent on only themselves or there will be consequences like being benched a few weeks or off the team for that semester. Last example I’ll give you to counteract their worries. Esports is a highly interpersonal endeavor. There’s way more communication and interpersonal notions at play when they’re training and competing and even the shyest player will learn how to communicate much better than before they were in my program.
ACR: Tell us about the season. What other schools are in your division and conference? How many opportunities are there to compete for a student athlete?
TC: There’s so many opportunities to compete but it’s very hard to know which conferences are sustainable or responsible outside of the leagues that the game developer hosts, like Riot Games’ CLOL collegiate tournament. There’s some local conferences coming and going that directors can be on the lookout for but not many are staple yet. I’m in a local conference now that I know will be gone maybe even after it’s first semester, just because esports is new in many infrastructure aspects so many entrepreneurs are attempting to create businesses out of leagues. Many resulting in cease and desist letters being sent from the game dev’s. Which is a case NACE ran into early in their creation.
In short though, the game developers usually do a good job of hosting a national tournament that’s split into regions for every school to be a part of.
ACR: What can an esports student athlete expect in terms of time commitment? How many hours of play, practice, travel?
TC: I think it will be up to how hard the academics are at their school. At a private school that is more intense academically like ONU hours have to be limited to the time they have to commit to studying. I’ll have my students doing 15-20 hours a week depending on if they’re only practicing or have a competition time that week. I could see public schools or full scholarship schools pushing that number to 30-40 hours a week.
My program will look like:
15 hours practice a week
15-20 if there’s competition that week
Travel time will be very minimal unless a team goes to championships
ACR: What are the academic expectations? Are there minimum GPA requirements? Do you offer study tables or other programs to support the student athletes?
TC: I answered this one above but I’ll touch on some details. There’s no third party collegiate governing body. It’s up to what the esports director would want to do to fulfill what the university needs from a student. Some schools like mine for instance, just copy what NCAA standards are even though esports doesn’t fall under them.
ACR: Share with us how your team is doing this season.
TC: I haven’t started my season yet. I haven’t coached collegiately before either, besides when I was a student player myself in 2010-2014. But predictions for the next semester is my teams will lose 90% of the games they play. Ohio Northern is in the most competitive region in the USA. I’ll be competing against many schools that offer full scholarship. This is another example how esports infrastructure is in its infancy with there not being such a thing as “divisions” for different skill levels to play. Which is why these entrepreneurs are trying to fill that gap, often incredibly irresponsibly and sometimes immoral/predatory to the players and schools. So I have to do a good job of prying which conference is not good for us.
ACR: Tell us about your coaching staff.
TC: Coaching staff is only myself and I get a few student analysts to help with things like scouting teams. I chose to only have 2 games at the start to not overwhelm myself with students. As I grow I’ll get coaches who can coach other games. My prowess is in OW and LOL, I would only be a head coach, not a strategic coach, for any other game.
ACR: Tell us about your esports practice and/or competition facilities.
TC: We have 2 LAN rooms for training. There are only computers in there and that’s where we hold practice and I’ll have the rooms available for students free time to practice. I have a coaching room to go over VOD reviews and player coach. VOD reviews are often called “going over film” in sports. We will stream our games and have viewing parties on campus for students to watch.
ACR: Please share any unique qualities of your program (first one in state, emphasis on team)
TC: I’ve visited a lot of schools and there’s very few that hired someone who actually has a passion to coach an esports team. Most employees in charge are responsible for more than just esports at the university. When a university doesn’t treat esports as responsibly as it should be treated the students tend to grow apathetic about participating. I come from a background of wanting to be a professional coach and spent some time working in the space, there’s not many schools outside of full ride scholarship schools that can say that about their coach. So a player who wants to develop themselves would be excited to see how serious I am about being a great coach in this field.
Not completely unique but has unique details. Our esports facilities having a coaching room is a setup that nearly no schools in the nation have. Which is a result of Ohio Northern hiring a practiced coach to advise on their facilities build.
ACR: What advice do you have for prospective students wanting to pursue esports, as well as those specifically seeking esports scholarships?
TC: Be realistic about what you want to do. If you want to go pro full scholarship is the way to go because that’s where you’ll get scouted, but going pro comes with its sacrifices such as having to spend a lot more time playing than doing other things like getting good grades in high school. Good luck convincing your parents to allow that. If you want to be a casual player and participate on a team in college, don’t be hard on yourself when someone is better than you and maybe makes 1st string and you make 2nd. Every choice comes with its set of sacrifices and consequences.
ACR: In what ways do participants in collegiate esports programs benefit?
TC: Biggest benefit is community. Community that’s actually recognized by an institution therefore your parents will recognize it more easily. In the past there was an enormous void for gamers and esports players that left many students never having the opportunity to be on a team or to grow their interpersonal skills and make lifelong friendships.
Unique to my program, the players will also get access to our athletics trainers for injury support and routine health checks.
ACR: Tell us about your goals for your program. (Do you expect to add more sports, scholarships, etc)
TC: My personal goal is to show how much marketing gain a university can get from a team that can compete at a very high level. Which I feel can help me give full scholarships to my players. Very few schools have been smart enough to know that if you get full scholarship now, by default, you become the Duke or Ohio State of esports. Sadly, most administrations don’t have the foresight to see this.
A goal that I can achieve no matter what is building an environment for the student players that will build camaraderie that will turn into lifelong friendships. Which is all the fulfillment I need from this job.
ACR: From a competitive esports standpoint, what is the single most significant moment or accomplishment that stands out in your program’s brief history?
TC: Since we’re new and haven’t competed yet, I won’t be able to link you a clip of a game that will resonate with ONU for years. I would instead say I think there’s competitive significance in how well built and equipped our esports facilities are. From a competitive standpoint our facilities will be amongst the best setup in the nation.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.