Nerd Street Gamers: Setting the standard for esports coaching

by Brock J Cheung

Originally appeared on Medium.com

“Once the program started taking shape, we saw an opportunity to help aspiring coaches in the esports scene outside of those we directly work with. Our mission of access, opportunity, and integrity in esports made this a natural pivot — why should only players have a pipeline to going pro?”

Level Up is a series of interviews with esports professionals, coaches, and individuals playing their part in innovating the competitive gaming scene. Follow their story and advice as we shed light on their journey.

Nerd Street Gamers, a premier tournament organizer and a company designed on the foundations of innovating the esports industry, recently announced their new coaching certification program at their 2021 Winter Championship Valorant Invitational. This program is designed to give aspiring esports coaches a streamlined way to learn how to become a coach and how to work their way through the esports industry to become a professional.

The program is broken up into four levels and covers many competitive titles in the esports industry. Each level has its own focus and becomes more advanced, specific, and challenging to acquire as one goes higher. This program is intended to take years to complete because once a coach receives a lower-level certification, they need to meet certain prerequisites other than just earning the prior certification before they’re allowed to go to the next level. The end goal is to give an aspiring coach the skills and knowledge to work for a pro-level organization in their game of choice.

The team at Insights had a chance to talk to Ben Beaver, the Head of Camps and Youth Programming at Nerd Street Gamers, to discuss where Nerd Street Gamers’ coaching certification program began, how it’s structured, and where it’s heading in the future.

Q: To give us a short introduction, how did you start working for Nerd Street Gamers?

I began working as a volunteer for Nerd Street Gamers (NSG) back in 2015 and started helping with the production of Cheeseadelphia, our Starcraft II tournament series, as an observer. Over the years, I just kept volunteering for anything they needed me for, observing, moving equipment from place to place, or building gamer chairs. The company was more of an idea at that point, but everyone who contributed in some shape or form wanted to build something real we could all fully dedicate ourselves to. NSG started hiring full-time employees, and I was fortunate enough to join full time in the Spring of 2019 as an Event Manager.

Q: Why was the coaching certification program started?

The program was created as a way to establish a standard for all of our camp coaches. We wanted our coaches to have the tools and training they needed to do the best job possible and to do that; we needed a way to scale our coaches and validate their progress. We reached out to select professional players, coaches, and retired players and coaches, all of whom have had tremendous success in the pro scene and are respected by their peers and fans.

Once the program started taking shape, we saw an opportunity to help aspiring coaches in the esports scene outside of those we directly work with. Our mission of access, opportunity, and integrity in esports made this a natural pivot — why should only players have a pipeline to going pro? What about those who want to help develop players? We are continuing to build out the program and have just announced our Level 1 certification is available for registration.

Q: What are the overarching goals of the program?

Put simply, the program’s goal is to increase the access, opportunity, and integrity of coaching in esports. We want to contribute to the content that is already out there, but our approach is a little different. We have four levels that range from Level 1, a weekend-long course, to Level 4, which will probably be spread out over several week-long courses. There are prerequisites to each level, but generally speaking, candidates from all walks of life can attend and advance through the programs.

Q: What are the levels in the program? What does each level contain?

Level 1 is about developing a well-rounded coach and is agnostic of game type, so the content centers heavily on players’ communication. How to motivate a player, put together a program for a player, set proper expectations for a player, and similar topics will all be covered in the course material. Candidates participate in lectures and hands-on exercises and complete a homework assignment between day one and day two. Levels 2 and 3 focus on game-specific knowledge to teach candidates how to take a player from unranked through to amateur level. Level 4 is all about working with professional players, so there is less emphasis on teaching gameplay and emphasizing performance in high-pressure situations, managing stress, and staying in top physical shape.

Q: Does the program support any game? If so, how does the program change from game to game?

Right now, we are limited to what games are available for candidates to take, but the catalog will expand as our company grows. The plan is to include all games that have competitive esports eventually. Level 1 is agnostic of any game; a candidate from any game background can take part. Levels 2 through 4 will be game-specific. As a basic example, FGC (Fighting Game Community) courses will focus a lot more on taking advantage of frames and understanding combos, whereas RTS (Real-Time Strategy) courses will feature heavy macro and strategy elements.

Q: Who will be teaching the program? What makes them qualified to be teaching how to coach in the Esports industry?

The instructors will be either current or former professional coaches, ideally those who have contributed to each course’s creation. We are naturally selective because we don’t want someone who played a year as a pro player and now thinks they can teach someone new how to get from unranked to grandmaster — precisely the opposite. We want someone who recognizes and appreciates how hard coaching can be, someone who knows how to break complex ideas down into bite-sized pieces that, when continued in succession, form a path to success in the short-term and the long-term.

Q: Do you think the program will be setting a standard for coaching going forward?

We think so. We believe there will be several standards continuing into the immediate future until the industry figures itself out. At the end of the day, the industry is continuously growing, and hopefully, we stay at the forefront of the expansion. Coaching in esports has already developed so much in such a short time, and there have naturally been a lot of growing pains. We want to assist in filling in the gaps and helping build a more solid foundation where possible.

Q: In the next five years, how do you expect the program to grow?

We expect the courses to become more robust and rewarding for the candidates. We want more games featured, more candidates trained, and therefore, more players happily developing their skill sets. We may be surprised by how the program changes over time, but if we can look back in five years and chart a linear progression of development, we will know we are on the right track.

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