The Punishment of Participating in Student Production

April 15th, 2019

By Brock Bernstein

SALT LAKE CITY — Like many university students across the United States, Cian Smyth, 20, is no stranger to a slim budget.

Working 28 hours a week as a director and producer for the University of Utah’s gaming production team, one would expect Smyth to be earning more than many of the team’s other members. They would be wrong. He currently earns the same amount as everyone else: absolutely nothing.

His story is just one of many among the university’s production team. Despite this, these students continue to invest their spare time into both the recording and streaming of games for Utah’s student Esports teams.

“I think a lot of students realize the grim reality of the esports industry is [that they’ll] be doing unpaid work for quite a while,” says Smyth. “I’m not happy that our production is perpetuating that.” While he acknowledges any kind of compensation lies far within the future, Smyth is just one of many voices advocating for reimbursement for the team’s efforts.

The loudest and most supportive of these voices is that of A.J. Dimick, the 40-year-old Director of Esports at the University of Utah. “Our production team is one of the most zealous, professional and talented volunteer organizations in collegiate esports,” Dimick proudly proclaimed. “They absolutely should be scholarshipped and officially part of the varsity program. What they do for the University is a service and they do it incredibly well.” While scholarships are generally based on academic or athletic merit, Dimick feels strongly that the team’s quality of work is deserving of such an award and is quick to share his frustration of a limited budget.

“I think there are always limitations to what volunteer force can accomplish relative to what could happen with additional resources,” he admitted. “What has been accomplished is remarkable and has made the argument for what we hope comes next a very reachable reality.”

AJ Dimick
A.J. Dimick, Director of Esports for the University of Utah, showing off a game he helped to produce, Feb. 17, 2016, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Dimick speaks of the importance of gaming, promoting the U’s top ranking Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) program.

According to a National Public Radio interview of Mark Kantrowitz, a recognized expert on college financing and author of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, “less than 3/10ths of a percent of undergraduate students pursuing bachelor’s degrees have won enough money to cover their complete tuition… so most students are going to have to rely on federal grants, state grants, and money from the college itself.”

One such example would be Utah’s 21-year-old League of Legends Varsity Team Captain, James “Jayms” Tran.  The official NCSA website mentions how the University of Utah was the first Power Five school to launch a varsity esports program, having done so in 2017. Tran looks back on the time before this fondly.

“The people that you get to meet and interact with has been a really great opportunity for me, and was a reason that I played for the team in the first place,” Tran says. As he’s gotten older and looked to further his education, Tran confessed that without a scholarship he wouldn’t have been able to play for the team in 2019. “Having the scholarship allowed me to do something that I really [enjoy],” noted Tran, “which is playing competitive League of Legends. Without it, I would have to find a job in order to pay for tuition.”

While Tran doesn’t participate as a member of the production team, he remains sympathetic to their plight. “Students are attending university, and it is expensive. Not being offered money definitely hinders people’s ability to participate in production.”

U of U League Team
The U celebrates the founding of its first varsity esports team, Oct. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City, Utah. This marks the first of many esports teams, with the U now including varsity teams for Rocket League, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and more.

A former professional player for Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm, Skylar “Casanova” Mulder is well-acquainted with the amount of labor needed to put on a broadcast. “FI know how important a great production team is. What we do as pros doesn’t happen without the people behind us making it look good,” Mulder laughed. “I think having scholarships or paid positions and incentives, as well as making connections and working with industry professionals in order to train more competent production staff would be amazing.”

Mulder’s career was brought to a grinding halt when Blizzard announced late on December 13th, 2017, that it would be shutting down its Heroes of the Storm Global Championship esports league. Wasting no time, he has since worked as a League of Legends caster with the University of Utah, but openly expresses his disappointment with the handling of the production team.

“I think the skills required are very much worthy of a scholarship, but if they were made paid positions with internships available for students to get experience and connections in the field, I think that would be a great alternative.” While Mulder hopes to continue casting for the U, “Casanova” is forced to supplement his income through playing in tournaments for both League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm on a weekly basis.

Mulder, a former professional esports player, feels right at home commentating for the U’s varsity League of Legends games, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here Mulder is seen breaking down the two teams’ picks and bans before the match starts.

Though all members of the production team feel both pride and passion in their work, the amount of time required from each member has weighed upon even the most optimistic of the group. One such example would be Archie “LegendOfSleek” Smith, who has worked within every role possible: casting, observing, and directing whenever he’s needed. Yet even he notes of constant complaints among peers, due to the difficulty of juggling classes, actual jobs, and production. Despite his glass-half-full outlook, Smith admits just how fruitless the majority of opportunities can prove. “Esports connections are about as valuable as a lottery ticket,” says Smith. “For some people they mean everything, [but for most]: nothing.”

  • Smith broadcast

Reflection Blog