When Josh Knutson was in college, he spent the extra time he had running, training and stretching to help himself better compete on the Track and Cross Country teams at the University of Jamestown. Now, he helps students and schools across our region take on a different type of competition, esports.
Knutson, a long time gamer himself, started on the path to the esports world during his first job after graduating from college. Upon graduating, Knutson stuck around in Jamestown and worked in the marketing department where they began looking into esports as a way to attract new students and provide new opportunities on campus. He was chosen to lead the team.
“We treated it exactly like a varsity sport,” said Knutson. “We stretched 10 minutes prior to practice, we watched film, we had students on scholarship, we recruited, and we competed with schools across the nation.”
When Jamestown launched its gaming team in 2016, they were the first school in North Dakota to have a team. Knutson would go on to lead the squad for three and a half years before stepping down to accept a position with ByteSpeed as the Esports and VR Solutions Director where he has a chance to take esports to an even greater number of students by working with Schools to start up their esports teams.
What are some of the responsibilities as far as coaching and running an esports team?
When a school has a program it functions very much like any other sport out there. You’re trading game plans, watching film, studying new strategies and looking at ways to get better at the game.
How did you end up at ByteSpeed?
I was looking for some new opportunities in the spring of 2019 and they approached me. At Jamestown, we had been their first collegiate esports customer. As an organization, ByteSpeed wanted to fulfill a bigger mission of making esports a larger part of their business and devote more resources to it. Currently, I serve as a resource for schools wanting to get started with esports. I talk to schools about how to successfully implement esports as a club team or varsity level program. We help them with the hardware, that’s our bread and butter, but I also have three years of coaching experience that I can offer to help them be more successful with the day to day stuff after they get the hardware.
Being on the business side of things of esports now, what’s the thing that has surprised you most about the space?
Just how rapidly it’s growing. Previously, it was pretty apparent that esports was going to be a really big thing at both the high school and higher ed level. At Jamestown, we were one of the first 20 colleges to start a varsity level program. Fast forward four years later, there are close to 200 schools participating nationwide. Many more high schools are jumping in and devoting resources to it.
How can students benefit from esports?
Students benefit from esports in a number of ways that are very similar to the benefits you see from traditional sports. Being a part of a team teaches communication skills, critical thinking, it builds teamwork and exposes students to a number of soft skills that you learn from interacting with others in a large group. Students also are able to benefit from having a sense of belonging in a social group that they might not previously have had an outlet for. Beyond all the interpersonal benefits, students that participate in esports often have an academic incentive to try more in school to stay eligible, much like staying eligible for sports, and therefore we have seen grades and attendance improve for those students. Lastly, benefits for students can include access to scholarships to play on college teams, and that opens the door to educational opportunities that might not have been open to some students due to financial barriers.
Was ByteSpeed really involved in the space before they hired you?
ByteSpeed’s involvement in esports really began in 2016 with the University of Jamestown. Before that, ByteSpeed was a computer manufacturer with high-level gaming systems that were available for purchase, but that’s as far as it was before 2016. We’re a company of gamers, it’s a passion for a lot of our employees. We’ve been increasing our partnerships that we have with other companies to be able to provide a full-service solution.
What are some of the challenges of being in such a new space?
There’s not a lot of resources out there. There’s a lot of education that has to happen. especially when you’re talking to schools. A lot of times they’ve heard of esports before, but they might not know what it is or why they should be adding it. When we talk to schools, we try to let them know about all benefits of esports and all the different reasons why they should add an esports program.