After OU appointed Mike Aguilar as director of Esports and Co-Curricular Innovation, a new role in the Division of Student Affairs, Aguilar said his goal is to manifest a department at OU dedicated to esports where students of all majors can focus on the esports industry.
Journalism, video production, business, marketing, law, social work and fine arts can all play a role in esports, Aguilar said. Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Surratt has worked with Aguilar to formulate a two-year plan to develop the esports club into the Department of Esports and Co-Curricular Innovation.
“The road map to the esports club has always been to elevate infrastructure,” Aguilar said.
The two-year plan calls for three mandates, according to Aguilar.
The first mandate is generating revenue, Aguilar said. The plan is to raise money through ad space on the Sooner Esports website and broadcasts. The second mandate is to continue co-curricular planning
“It’s essentially what the student life mission is, which is to provide engaging programming to foster good community inclusion, diversity and hopes to have some equity inside of a topic they’re passionate about,” Aguilar said.
The final mandate is establishing curriculum and research opportunities within esports.
“Everything that we typically see in sports entertainment is also an opportunity for research and curriculum, whether it be creative media production, professional writing, sports team management, psychology, anthropology; social work is (also) a great one,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar’s new position was a major accomplishment for OU’s esports club and its news and media team, computer science junior Derek Snow said.
Snow is the editor-in-chief for Sooner Esports, responsible for editing news articles and overseeing the organization’s media team.
“What that means for our world is we’re going to be able to use that title and endorsement to start getting sponsorships and funding,” Snow said.
The esports news and media team hopes to use that funding to pay their writers and news staff.
Snow said the esports news and media team have a special relationship with Aguilar. They give him the support and advice he needs in reaching his goals for Esports at OU and Aguliar supports the group equally.
Aguilar has worked closely with Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty to expand journalism opportunities within Sooner Esports at OU. One of the primary reasons he is working to broaden journalism in esports is curriculum alignment, Aguilar said.
“Esports overall, at its core, is a journalistic industry above anything, because if you can’t tell the story, if you can’t tell the drama, if you can’t showcase the event, then esports doesn’t exist at all,” Aguilar said. “It’s just gaming.”
The conversation on how to approach esports and journalism curriculum is still young, Aguilar said.
“Journalism is my natural first go-to considering that we have three pillars that focus on undergraduate programs, being the production team, streaming team, and the news and media team,” Aguilar said. “That is the first thing that we’ve been working on, is to start the conversation of what the curriculum would look like inside of Gaylord.
Esports has also been incorporated into Gaylord Dean Yvette Walker’s intro to media classes, which Aguilar said is a step in the right direction. He said Walker began teaching her students how to cover gaming media and has had Aguilar as a guest speaker.
“Dean Walker has taught out of that book now, I think she said, for three or four years and she has never taught that section ever,” Aguilar said. “So just in a single lecture she has diversified a curriculum that she hasn’t changed for three or four years, showing the opportunities for alignment — because it was right in the textbook, she just didn’t have the expertise to speak to it.”
Aguilar wants to “offer students further diversification in their degree choices,” he said. He believes the esports industry requires a great deal of focus when it comes to journalism.
“Curriculum is one thing, but practicum and actually getting the experience is another thing altogether,” Aguilar said. “So how do we build programs that can leverage pre-existing curriculum?”
Last academic year, Aguilar partnered with Lynn Franklin, an instructor at Gaylord, who allowed the OU esports club to use the college’s studios. Aguilar plans on reconvening with Franklin in pursuit of getting esports its own version of OU Gameday and creating other esports programs under the Gaylord brand.
Another goal Aguilar has is offering internship possibilities to students, he said.
GetRECt is a local tournament organizer that offers internships for up to three credit hours and has a need for production services, Aguilar said.
David Kaucic is an OU alumnus who was the broadcast and production director of esports in 2019, and serves as the head of GetRECt. Kaucic worked with video and audio that went into streaming, despite little prior experience with technical production. Kaucic also helped esports broadcasters with their on-air skills and taught them about the games they would cover.
“The esports program’s goal is to have an actual support system built around the esports program the same way that we have for OU athletics,” Kaucic said.
There are also opportunities for journalism and professional writing students writing articles for the Sooner Esports website. Aguilar said it’s similar to an OU sports journalist going to Texas to cover a football game.
“It’s essentially a copy of the intention of what the OU Daily is supposed to be,” Aguilar said. “Except its focus is on esports and gaming news.”
Once COVID-19 allows for safer travel, Aguilar is looking to send esports journalists to events like E3 or Comic Con to cover gaming news.
“If (COVID-19) wasn’t a thing, we could more than likely execute a lot of that part of it in the spring semester,” Aguilar said. “But it really all comes down to when that vaccine is going to hit.”
Aguilar said he hopes the esports program at OU will become another draw for students looking for opportunities they can’t get at other regional or state institutions.
“One of the reasons that students come to the University of Oklahoma is because they are subscribing to a university that has a more diverse pool of opportunities,” Aguilar said. “This is a topic that can transcend a lot of different colleges.”