For Full Sail University, esports came naturally. Since the school has offered gaming degrees for over 25 years, it came as no surprise when esports culture became widespread among Full Sail’s students. The wildly popular degree programs have made gaming just as prevalent on campus as music or film. And with esports, the combination of gaming and live entertainment was a perfect fit.
The university’s Career Development Department also began to see a shift in where alumni were finding work. Graduates from programs like Show Production, Entertainment Business, and other live-event focused programs were building careers in esports – not just grads with gaming degrees.
“Suddenly a lot of folks were going into the world of esports,” says Sari Kitelyn, Director of Esports and Project Development at Full Sail. “And because of the way live events were working with esports – it’s high-energy, it’s high technology – there was a strong need to understand all the moving pieces, from sound to stream capabilities and technology to computer setup.”
Full Sail needed an esports initiative that was well-rounded for the world of entertainment, and a space that was adaptable. The Fortress, Full Sail’s collegiate esports arena, would be just that space with ten million pixels of LED walls, all-LED lighting rigs, concert-level PA systems, and capacity for 500 people. It’s the largest collegiate esports arena in the US, and it’s built to be flexible. The removable LED walls, mobile stage and caster areas, and adjustable audience views allow The Fortress to optimize for an ideal event experience, no matter the game. It would also become home to Full Sail’s collegiate esports organization, Armada, with varsity teams in games students choose and try out for themselves.
As a classroom, The Fortress gives students unparalleled opportunities, not just with Full Sail’s Armada, but as a venue for real-world experience. Organizations like Red Bull and NBA 2K have hosted esports events in The Fortress allowing students to shadow production or take part in roles like camera operation.
Alumni also bring opportunities to The Fortress. “We have grads that have worked on pretty much every title that would field an esports team,” says Sari. “We’ve had grads that have been in the industry for quite some time, and we have brand new grads that just went into the industry, and all are already coming back.”
Matt “Burns” Potthoff is one of these grads. After his eUnited team won the Call of Duty World Championship, Matt came straight to The Fortress to host a Call of Duty collegiate invitational with Full Sail. He and other grads have come to campus to talk to students about breaking into the industry and how to transition from player to working in the business of esports. Justin Burnham, Global Creative Director for DreamHack, the world’s largest gaming and esports conference, has also hired grads and given students internship opportunities.
Blizzard Entertainment’s Lead Project Manager in Esports and the first woman to graduate from Full Sail’s Game Design master’s program, Erin Eberhardt, brought a Hearthstone tournament to The Fortress. Students served in project manager positions, managed schedules, and provided logistical support. Long after the event, Erin still serves as a mentor and gives these students advice.
“We have to assemble all the cohesive parts for a program that reflects the esports industry together at once,” says Sari. “We’re optimizing the students’ benefits, we’re optimizing their opportunities, and we’re giving them the full experience.”