Taking charge in esports has recently become the norm for Stelanie Tsirlis.
The 22-year-old student at Miami University (Ohio) is already the president of her school’s esports club and the co-founder of an organization that recently hosted its first collegiate tournament.
Now she’s taking on another project: Starting – and teaching – an esports class.
“It seems people are sort of uneducated about esports in general,” said Tsirlis, who’s played games most of her life but dove into esports only a few years ago. “It’s kind of becoming a larger thing in our culture, but a lot of people don’t really know what it is or anything about it.
“If we really want esports to be sustainable and continue to move forward, then people need to know more about it. I thought a course would be a really good way (to do that).”
She’s planning the course with the help of Glenn Platt, the school’s director of Interactive Media Studies. She’ll teach the class with another professor, Phill Alexander.
Tsirlis first brought the idea to Platt a few months ago and, after they both thought about it during holiday break, agreed to move forward to get the course on the slate for next fall.
Platt said the university as a whole has been pushing for more creativity in curriculum, and the idea of students teaching students was appealing.
This class might reach even beyond that, though.
It’s one thing to start a class about esports. The next step is nailing down what, exactly, is going to be in it.
Tsirlis took to Reddit a few days ago asking for input, and the responses floored her.
Her post might have garnered only 50 comments, which is mild by Reddit’s standards, but the support for her idea confirmed how Tsirlis already felt about esports’ engaging community.
“We’ve been reviewing a lot of the Reddit feedback, and it’s been great,” Platt said. “Things we didn’t even know what to think about, we’re now talking about (including).”
The conversation started the ball rolling on ideas about what to include. The curriculum isn’t set in stone yet, but Tsirlis and Platt said some of the topics will be the history of esports, how its business models work and comparing the cultures and aspects of different games.
“The League (of Legends) scene is so different than the (Super Smash Bros.) scene,” Tsirlis said. “Analyzing individuals in the scene. Trying to talk to them and see how they impacted the industry …I’d really love to do a segment on what is an esport.”
The Reddit post also sparked a discussion Tsirlis and Platt didn’t even expect to have: How to make it possible for people outside Miami to participate in the class. Between comments on the thread and private messages Tsirlis received, there seemed to be a groundswell of people wanting to be a part of the class.
As a result, Tsirlils said she plans to contact streaming company Twitch to see if it would be possible to live stream her class.
Perhaps the most important thing to learn about esports is its actively engaging community. So what better way to teach people about it than to bring the community into the class?
“That kind of power and energy that’s really evident on Reddit, can we engage them on the day-to-day activities in the class?” Platt said.
Miami and beyond
The class might be the first of its kind in America.
New York University offers a handful of games courses, including Intro to StarCraft II. There’s also a League of Legends class that’s been taught at the University of California at Berkeley. But Tsirlis’ might be the first all-encompassing esports college course in America.
“What I’m really hoping happens with this course, it would be so cool to see the community come together and help mold it and shape it,” Tsirlis said.
But trailblazing isn’t anything new to Tsirlis, who helped found AllMid, an organization that produces esports events in hopes of growing the industry in the Midwest. Its first tournament, the AllMid Collegiate Invitational, took place in Cincinnati last October and had 800 participants.
Tsirlis and Platt also hope to make Miami – which will introduce a gaming major next year, Platt said – the next college in America to field a varsity esports team.
“I haven’t convinced our athletic director yet,” Platt said. “But we’re going to meet about it.”
For now, though, Tsirlis – who is double majoring in marketing and interactive media studies – will continue to try to build her curriculum and find the best way to attract the attention of the growing esports community.
“It’s weird how (gaming) has sort of evolved from being little, having that console, then getting into PC and esports,” When you met the community, you realize it: This is what I want to do.”