Evaluating Volunteering and Internships

As esports events start to return to the live event status across the United States, we thought it would be a good time to talk about volunteering/internships in esports. It’s often a hot-button issue in the community with strong opinions on both sides. Neither side is correct, unfortunately. Everyone’s situation for volunteering/interning in esports is different depending on what you’re looking to get out of it at that moment and in the future.

With that in mind, let’s go over what you should consider when volunteering or seeking an internship in esports (or just in general).

Volunteering at Events

Events are the place where esports organizations often need a lot of help. Many esports orgs are still small in terms of full-time staff, so when they run an event they simply need more bodies around. This can be anything from helping to set up an event, to manning a merch table, to being a ticket taker at the front door.

Being a volunteer at one of these events is generally a good idea if you want to get a glimpse into how live events are planned/run. This kind of experience can be otherwise hard to acquire if you don’t have any previous experience working in events. Additionally, your time commitment for these events will be short, usually the weekend of the event. You’re not looking at a gigantic commitment of your time.

While learning about how to run an event, you also get the chance to network with those from the esports org while volunteering at the event. I know everyone hates networking, but it’s an incredibly important part of job searching, no matter what field you’re in. Live events are one of the best places to network and meet new people.

When looking for events to volunteer at, look at more than just the tier 1 organizations in your area. Plenty of smaller tournaments are looking for help in all of the esports scenes. It doesn’t matter if your live event experience is in Rocket League, Super Smash Bros., or VALORANT. It’s all good experience to acquire at the beginning of your esports journey and the majority of what you learn will be transferrable across the esports scenes.

Internships

This is where things become a lot more nuanced in the world of esports and the debate really heats up in terms of taking it or not. As with events, if you’re doing an internship in an office for only a few days, that’s completely fine. It’s a great way to step into a role and learn about it with very little commitment.

Oftentimes, though, an internship is not going to be only for a few days. Organizations will likely want a longer commitment from you if they are bringing you into their office. This is where you need to start evaluating if things are really worth it.

You’ll see a lot of unpaid internships/office volunteering work in the esports space for orgs at all levels. As a blanket rule, if an organization is asking you to work 40 hours/week unpaid, do NOT take the role. That org needs an employee, they just don’t want to pay someone to do the job.

An unpaid internship needs to provide you with a lot of value to be worth it. You are giving the org your time for free. Make sure you are getting something significant out of it. Additionally, if you take an unpaid internship, make sure your responsibilities align with what that should be. You should have a boss that is hands-on with you and teaching you about their job. They should be able to answer your questions about the processes involved.

As an unpaid intern, you should not be like any other employee at the company. An intern is someone who is there for educational purposes, not generating profit for the company. The U.S. Department of Labor looks at seven factors when determining the legality of unpaid interns and student positions and it is a great checklist to have when considering unpaid internship positions.

However, there are circumstances where unpaid internship programs can be considered fair. Take this Dignitas internship program that is currently live as of publication. The editorial internship is an opportunity for new writers with little to no experience to get their feet wet in the world of esports journalism and writing. It’s remote, which is a huge bonus, and the actual time commitment for it is very low. One to two articles per month is a perfectly acceptable amount to contribute on a volunteer/unpaid basis. Dignitas also provides editorial guidance for the intern along with a letter of recommendation.

These are all the makings of a good opportunity to take advantage of that will help aspiring esports writers get paid positions at publications.

When asked what made her internship special, Rose Leung, former T1 Graphic Design Intern and now a Jr. Graphic Designer at G4TV, told us:

“The key to having a good internship is having a mentor that genuinely cares about you—not only gives you the small stuff that they don’t want to do, but they should be able to give you your own freedoms and advocate for you, not just as a designer but also in your work ethic. I strongly believe that when you’re working in creative internships it’s not just about the work you produce, but how you go about it.”

Next, we want to go over what a bad internship posting looks like. Thankfully for us, Sentinels social media coordinator Zach brought attention to one such bad posting.

The Philadelphia Eagles have multiple internships they posted (all bad), but let us focus on the Multimedia Journalist internship. One of the first red flags for this is the $12/hour rate for a recent graduate. The second of many red flags, all relocation expenses are the responsibility of an intern. These two red flags show that this internship opportunity is for those that are already affluent.

Next up, the length of the internship. It’s 10 months long! That is not a proper internship. That is an employee. One of the many reasons this length is horrible is because you would not have any benefits during this time, despite the fact that you are working 40 hours per week for the company.

Let’s move on to the responsibilities they expect for $12/hour. You can see the qualifications require experience in video production and print journalism. Those requirements encompass at minimum three different jobs that they should be hiring for: a writer, a video editor, and a videographer. 

All of the available internships the Philadelphia Eagles have posted are similar to this and should be actively ignored. They require too much, pay too little, and should be filled by an entire studio team, not an intern. For a sports club worth $3.4 billion, they can afford to hire more interns or pay the ones they are recruiting a lot more.

At most, you should be spending around three months in any internship position, paid or unpaid.

If you’re still unsure about an internship role you found, try to reach out to previous interns of the organization on Twitter or those currently at the organization on Twitter. They’ll likely be able to give you more insight into the validity of the internship and the expectations.