Gaining relevant esports experience while in high school

As young people become aware of the many professional opportunities that now exist in the esports industry, they naturally begin using sites like ours to look for a job and are often surprised that the majority require prior experience to apply.

It’s both good and bad that esports is long past the point of passion for video games being “enough” to land a job. Even some of the “entry-level” opportunities we post are now seeking candidates who have some track record of experience in the space, no matter how minor.

This creates a vicious cycle. The majority of attractive opportunities require prior experience, but there aren’t enough entry-level opportunities that allow young people to gain the experience they need to apply for them.

As such, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one question we get asked by high schoolers and their parents is now, “where can I gain esports experience if I’m under 18?” (or “where can my son/daughter get esports experience if they’re under 18?”.)

And that’s why we’re here today, to give YOU the inside scoop on our usual answer! (We’re Hitmarker, by the way, the largest jobs website in esports and gaming, and the fine people at NASEF have called us in to help get you on track for an esports career.)

Before we get into it, if you didn’t catch our first blog post about finding your career path in esports we’d strongly recommend you get caught up now, as answering our “Three Whats” will definitely benefit you before you start hunting for relevant esports experience.

All set? Great. Let’s get to it!

First, we need you to think about two things:

  1. How much spare time you have after your school day and homework is done.
  2. How much money you need to be earning each month while at high school (if anything).

In an ideal world, your answers would be “lots” and “nothing”, respectively, but we live in a far from an ideal world! As such, the following advice will attempt to take everyone’s personal circumstances into account.

OPTION ONE: GET INVOLVED IN ESPORTS AT YOUR SCHOOL

From our experience in the hiring side of the esports industry, nothing looks better on a young person’s college application or employment resume than significant involvement in extracurricular activities at high school, especially in a leadership capacity.

Does your school have an esports club, society, or team that you could volunteer with? If it does, this can be a great way to gain demonstrable, hands-on experience in a variety of fields. You could walk away with experience in an area like playing, coaching, casting, production, marketing, business development, or events. 

NASEF has created tons of toolkits and materials for clubs that give guidance on how to practice these job skills in their club. Ask your GM to check the Club Portal and share those resources with you. This is definitely where we’d recommend you start if you have the option to!

If there’s no official esports body at your school already, then have you considered starting one yourself and getting your friends and classmates involved? Some of the most impressive esports candidates that we see have often set up clubs, societies, or teams themselves, learning a ton of skills in the process that are highly valuable to esports employers!

Esports companies are typically in the startup stage, which means employees are often required to “wear multiple hats” (which basically means “contribute to the business in a lot of different ways”). There’s no better way of learning to wear multiple hats than to start a club, society, or team yourself! Joining NASEF lets you and your friends participate in free tournaments (and win grants and scholarships!), and they have a lot of foundational materials prepared that you can customize, like a club charter.

OPTION TWO: BECOME AN ESPORTS INDUSTRY SELF-STARTER

Continuing on with the self-starter theme, there’s also a LOT that you can do from the comfort of your own home these days. If your talents lie in one or more of the highly creative pursuits that esports offers - such as writing, casting, streaming, designing, photography, video editing, and/or web development - then there’s a ton that you can do to get noticed by the community and to fill up your college application AND employment resume at the same time.

If you’re a writer with a passion for a particular game or the esports industry as a whole, then there are a number of sites (Medium being chief amongst them) where you can set up a profile and get your words out into the world for free. Combined with some strong opinions and a decent social media game, this is becoming an increasingly good way to get noticed by professionals in the space.

If your passion is in being an on-screen personality - whether that be casting or playing games on stream - it’s never been easier to produce your own content at minimal expense. You might not be the next Phreak or Ninja, but you’d gain some great experience in front of the camera regardless and would be able to have a demo reel on-hand if any opportunities were to arise. Researching equipment like a good microphone, some lights, and recording software would be a good place to start. You can also sign up for NASEF’s high school shoutcasting program and get mentorship from college casters too, plus you’ll get the opportunity to practice casting to their broad audience. 

If you’re an artist, designer, photographer, video editor, or web developer, then a portfolio is hugely important. There’s nothing worse for a hiring manager than receiving an application from a creative person who doesn’t share any of their work, so don’t let that person be you. Regardless of where your skill lies here, make sure you’re doing stuff outside of school and keeping track of it in an online portfolio like eFuse or even on your own website.

You can also demonstrate a lot of these skills by entering NASEF’s Beyond the Game challenges. They cover different topics like streaming, creating art and videos, developing game patches, and more. Every entrant develops a portfolio piece that can be used to illustrate their value. Winners even receive scholarships and mentoring sessions with professionals working in that field and challenges change every semester. 

Self-starters are highly sought after in esports, and even if your work doesn’t get a huge audience it’s still great to have a track record of producing things going back to your high school days. If nothing else, it shows that you’re hugely creative and extremely determined, which may be enough to earn you a shot somewhere.

OPTION THREE: VOLUNTEER AT MAJOR ESPORTS EVENTS (ONLINE AND OFFLINE)

We’re not huge fans of volunteering here at Hitmarker - and the US Department of Labor is with us on that - even though the esports industry that we all know and love was most definitely built by volunteer workers (and still continues to be in some places).

However, we do always advocate for event volunteering because it tends to be limited in duration (often just a week or a weekend) and puts you right into the heart of the action.

If you’re lucky enough to have any esports conferences or events near you then that’s naturally where you should start enquiring. Volunteering at shows like BlizzCon, E3, and TwitchCon always jump off the page on a resume, but there are other great ones like PAX and DreamHack that we’d highly recommend taking part in too.

One small positive of COVID-19 is that the majority of these events are currently taking place online and still require volunteers, so even if none of these are near you it could be a good time to get involved with them!

Don’t just limit yourself to conferences and expos, though. Keep in mind that many tournaments require volunteers to run smoothly. You might even have a local LAN center or esports venue that would LOVE a helping hand with their events!

OPTION FOUR: FIND PAID ESPORTS WORK LOCALLY

If working for free is completely out of the question for you - even if it’s for your school, for yourself, or at an event - then your option is to join the hunt for “entry” jobs in the scene.

Luckily, we know just the place to get you started: HERE!

However, we’d be willing to bet that if you click that link and use our filters to narrow things down to your closest city, you’ll be unlikely to find anything that doesn’t require prior experience - even at the “entry” level.

While the esports industry is growing rapidly, there is still a real lack of paid opportunities for young people who are just starting out, which leads to the vicious cycle that we talked about earlier. Hopefully, you’re one of the lucky ones, but don’t despair too much if not. Just keep reading…

OPTION FIVE: FIND PAID ESPORTS WORK YOU CAN DO AT HOME

Working from home is all the rage right now, and we’re happy to report that remote esports opportunities have been climbing in 2020 so far (for obvious reasons). We’d expect this trend to continue too, so while there still may not be anything relevant to you here, the chances are that you’ll find more possibilities than if you limit your search to your hometown or home state.

A word of warning here: you should always seek advice from a parent or teacher before agreeing to work remotely for an organization. It’s incredibly important to do your own research, too, to identify if the organization has an active presence on at least one social media platform and to find out if they’ve been around for a while (at least a year).

So many esports “orgs” appear and disappear within months, promising payment and never delivering. Make sure you get a contract (and be sure to get that checked too) and have an agreement over the number of hours you’re expected to work. Don’t overcommit here. Most importantly: make sure those hours don’t interfere at all with your schoolwork.

Some remote opportunities can be amazing, but some others are the definition of “too good to be true”. If you’re unsure, ask a family member or teacher. If that doesn’t help, we’re always happy to give advice too! Our contact page is here, and you can reach us a bunch of different ways.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS

If you’ve checked out all of the above options and have come up empty-handed, don’t worry, you definitely won’t be alone! Luckily we’ve got some advice for you here too.

Not everyone can find esports experience while they’re in high school, and that’s totally okay. Not everyone needs to take the same career path to get into the esports industry. Any work experience that you can pick up will look good on a resume whether it’s in esports or not. It shows that you care about earning your own keep and learning how to act professionally.

Additionally, if you’re thinking about going to college then why not make investigating a college’s involvement in esports a priority when deciding where to apply?

Much of our advice about getting involved in esports at your high school applies to college. And with college, it’s likely you’ll have at least some choice in where you go. More and more colleges are building esports arenas and teaching esports programs, and many already have established clubs, societies, and teams competing in a bunch of titles.

If college is out of the question, then we’d recommend seeking out an esports mentor to follow and learn from. Look for someone who’s working professionally in the space and reach out to see if they’d just be happy to speak to you for 30 minutes and tell you their story to begin with. If you feel like there’s a good rapport, push your luck and ask if you can make a regular thing of it.

You could be working anywhere and still learning about esports from your mentor at the same time. And as your mentor-mentee relationship deepens, it may even lead to job opportunities on its own!

IN CONCLUSION

We hope we’ve been able to uncover some options for you when it comes to gaining relevant esports experience as a high school student. We can’t pretend that it’s ever easy, but if you’re interested in a career in our industry you need to be exploring these options as soon as you can.

Gaining experience at this early stage of your life could be the advantage you need to be one of the lucky ones who lands a long-term career in the esports industry. It’s becoming harder and harder to get in, so you need to take any edge you can get.

That’s all, folks! We’ll see you next time when we’ll be offering some advice on creating your esports resume.

Thanks for reading, and good luck! Don’t forget, we’re always here if you need us.

The Hitmarker Team