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Lori Bajorek on the Value of Esports

Lori Bajorek, National Esports Association
(Image credit: National Esports Association)

Esports is among the fastest growing industries in the world—and there’s no better time than now to get involved.

On De. 4, AV Technology, Systems Contractor News, and Tech & Learning will co-host a one-day virtual event—Leveling Up: The Esports Conference & Expo—for integrators, consultants, technology managers, and educational professionals that will explore the tools, trends, and experience in esports and education.

What’s esports all about? According to Lori Bajorek, president of the National Esports Association, competitive gaming is more than just a hobby; it’s a catalyst for the development of life skills for a whole generation of young people. “We say ‘play with a purpose,’” she said. “It’s creating an online community of inclusiveness and diversity where we all feel we can win and grow together.”

Bajorek, who delivered the keynote address at the 2020 AV/IT Summit in August and will deliver the keynote at Leveling Up, has years of experience in building structure around foundational youth activities. When her son was in kindergarten, she began partnering with others in her area of Upstate New York to form an afterschool program to cultivate his love for Legos. A few years later, when he became engrossed in Minecraft, she teamed up with Minecraft Education to develop programs and run camps to encourage growth through the game. “I loved the concept of how it was utilizing spatial manipulation and computers, at such a young age,” she said. “And the move into esports [from there] happened very organically.”

[Watch Bajorek's keynote at the 2020 AV/IT Summit]

As her son grew, so did her involvement in gaming programs. Eventually she quit her job selling insurance and focused full-time on esports, launching a nonprofit organization. “I started seeing this amazing evolution in using gamification in the classroom and working with partners such as Microsoft, Minecraft, and some of the bigger ones in the earlier days,” she said. The challenge, at the time, was a lack of unified infrastructure. “There was no pathway to success for esports—I don’t think ‘esports’ was even a word at that point. It was more of a conversation I was having with schools, parents, companies like Microsoft, asking ‘Where are we seeing this going?’”

Bajorek found an answer through the National Esports Association, an entity through which she could help establish a formal curriculum around gaming. Before she arrived and became its president in April of 2019, the organization was “a lot of gamers who thought they knew what they were doing, but who really needed help and guidance and a platform,” she said. “I took the idea and helped to develop the infrastructure and define what it actually means to be the National Esports Association. What do gamers need? What do educational institutions need?”

The association’s primary focus is to help schools establish a foundation to get their esports programs off the ground. This often begins with the most basic of consultations. “When you go into a high school, for instance, and ask, ‘What games do you want to play?’ [sometimes] they’ll say, ‘We want to play esports,’” she said. “So it’s in its infancy.

“Then we talk about their esports lab. Are you playing in your cafeteria? Are you converting your computer lab into a gaming lab? What games are you actually going to use? Do you have someone who is coaching? It’s really developing it all from the ground up.” At the college level, Bajorek said that schools tend to be more informed—with many looking to recruit players on scholarships—but still need help establishing the proper infrastructure.

To help accomplish this, the association works with a number of technology companies, including distributors like Ingram Micro, integration firms like AVI-SPL, and AV manufacturers like Crestron. “That’s something that I’ve had to become an expert in,” she said. “Working with companies like Ingram Micro, but then also the integrators, is so important. I need them desperately. To be able to make a phone call and say, ‘I’ve got this school that really needs your help and guidance.’”

Bajorek said it’s crucial that more companies in the AV industry establish divisions focused on esports, and encourages them to reach out to the National Esports Association for guidance. “That’s one of the things I like working on with companies, helping them develop the educational platform for the people who are selling their products,” she said. “Most what we do is just on the educational side, but that’s what’s so important: understanding how this works in the classroom so you can figure out where your products actually fit in, and where you can help strengthen the mission of what it is that esports is trying to do.”

And in the end, that mission is all about the players. “How do you create that esports structure for teaching healthy gaming habits? How do you integrate gaming into the classroom? And how do you use it to help the digitized youth of today become the future leaders of tomorrow?” she said.

Hear more from Bajorek at Leveling Up: The Esports Conference & Expo on Fri., Dec. 4. 

Registration is free for qualified attendees. To register or learn more, visit eduesportsexpo.com.