How to Build and Fund Gaming and eSports Facilities at K-12 Schools, Community Colleges and Universities

How to Build and Fund Gaming and eSports Facilities at K-12 Schools, Community Colleges and Universities

Author: Martin Fritzen

The idea to build gaming and esports programs and facilities at educational institutions can come from different sources. Any stakeholder can ask for it: students, school leaders, local community, or influencers.

The research phase

No matter where the idea comes from, the best practice advice (before spending any money), is to sit down with the “idea-owner” (school management, students or others), and discuss these questions:

Why do we want gaming programs and esport facilities at our school?

What do we want to accomplish?

Is this purely an extracurricular activity or could it become part of learning?

What type of program do we want—competitive, social, academic – or all three?

What kind of games and activities do we want with our program? Practice, match, tournaments, leagues, bootcamps, and events?

What type of students are motivated by competitive, social or academic aspects of gaming and esports?

What type of facilities do we need, to support our chosen esports program?

What kind of people do we need, to support our chosen esports program?

What kind of technology (internet, computers, consoles, games, licenses, software, and hardware) do we need?

What kind of budget do we need to support our program?

Who is in charge of the budget? Who is in charge of the content/activities? Who is in charge of the facilities and technology?

You might not have answers to all these questions, but asking them will help you find the way to the most optimal esports program for your school.

Next, it would be clever to do a survey to see what your student population would want from an esports program, and take that into consideration.

Bear in mind, that even if a consultant starts the program, you will need someone part- or full-time to drive the program forward. My experiences are that students will not be able to create and maintain a program on their own.

The planning phase

Begin by gathering answers from the survey, and analyze the results and compare these with the “why,” and the rest of the answers from the basic questions above. Use the survey responses to put together a unique esports program that is relatable to your students and school community. It´s been my experience that building the right foundation from the start, is critical to the success of the program. Here are some suggestions for getting your program off on the right foot:

Define the vision: “We believe that…”

Define the profile of the program—competitive, social, or academic.

Define the mission: “We offer X to Y target group and create Z together.”

Define the goals: “We want to accomplish X, by Y date, by doing Z.”

Define the games students can play in the program.

Define the activities: practice, matches, tournaments, leagues, bootcamps, events, coaching, personal development, physical activities, cognitive activities, and social activities.

Define the people, the technology, the facilities, and the budget: To be successful we need XYZ.”

The fundraising phase

Depending on your needs for facilities, people and budget, here are some ideas for fundraising to buy computers, consoles, furniture, décor, tables, chairs and so on:

Talk to school leadership to understand if there are any local school grants /funds to support the esports program.

Activate your existing network of stakeholders and community partners, get institutional advancement (and similar offices) involved from the onset.

Talk to your local and state governments; they might have grants for extracurricular activities and or specific gaming activities.

Apply for the: School Improvement Grants.

Apply for the: Elkhart Education Foundation Extracurricular Grants.

Let your tech partners in your locality/state know your intention, to create a pipeline of career ready STEM-centric graduates by way of esports. By supporting your program these companies can get frontline access to a future workforce and be a part of that innovation.

Do you know any local business owners that you can speak to about supporting your esports program?

What local companies are existing sponsors of sports and athletic clubs? Meet them and understand why they do what they do. See if your organization can help them with their goals.

Does the city or local government have funds or grants that support local activities for the esports team community youth programs.

Are there any community funders, such as banks, Lions or Rotary clubs, or other organizations that would be interested in supporting your program and goals? There usually are.

esports gaming

Photo Credit: Katy Kildee

Business and corporate social responsibility initiatives will often donate financial support for your program. We have so many results[1], articles[2], and proof, that gaming and esports really help people in lots of different ways. When other people/business owners understand that, they are likely to donate funds to your program, to support the work you do and the change you represent for loads of youngsters.

Create a “Wall of Founders,” and offer every company or person, who pays a specific annual sum, a spot on the wall. The “wall of founders”, can be a real physical wall with plaques or an online graphic. A lot of local sports clubs do this and offer “your name on the wall,” for $300 per year for at least three years. Sell 30 partnership deals, and you have secured $9,000 per year in revenue from that wall. In return, you send the partner a certificate as a PDF as recognition and post on social media.

Look around in your local community, there will be sports clubs, schools, businesses or others, who are looking for help. Could be help on a Christmas fair, help with a summer party, or help with selling tickets to a lottery or an auction. Read local newspapers and be proactive in contacting local fairs, parties and other initiatives, usually it will be a way for you to earn income for your organization. If there are 10 people in your organization, you can earn even more by helping others

You can also contact every local media outlet and offer them a weekly “Esports News” article for their print and online media. Most media outlets know nothing about esports, and your weekly esports column will bring new, interesting content to their media, which will help them attract a new audience. You can also help them promote esports with a podcast, videos, or blog posts.

The communication phase

Community colleges and universities can leverage their fundraising and the progress of the program by using their marketing and communications departments to build momentum across media and social channels. Show your physical support and commitment to raise funds. Post about growth and future plans online and in local media in real-time.

Put out a call to action. Not just off campus, but on-campus too. Connect the dots. Bring together your athletics staff and show them the recruitment potential.  Show your planning board and resident life teams the potential for programming. Visit a dean or two and give them some stats[3] on esports job growth (even through the pandemic) and the demand for “esports educated” graduates.

Tap into the alumni network and invite legislators and elected representatives to visit your program to learn about the STEM skills students are developing and their economic potential as part of a school-to-work program.

The activation phase

With approximately $10,000, schools can build ten midrange gaming computers and buy the necessary peripherals.

Now you have computers, tech, internet, and furniture. You are ready to launch practices, matches, tournaments, and leagues.

Create experiences on-campus that highlight the work being done already related to the gaming industry.

Database of other local esports program – Early in your program’s activation, it’s good practice to develop a database of secondary schools and/or community colleges and universities in your area that have esports programs. You can use this database to attract recruits and eventually promote matches and other events.

Other revenue raising activities could include:

Merchandise/streaming: I would encourage new programs to find a vendor to develop an online storefront for the program. They can sell jerseys, mousepads, etc. You can also generate funds via streaming either directly (YouTube, Twitch), or through a corporate advertiser.

Local Competitions/events: Again utilizing the database of local schools, you can rent out your facility for competitions. There are a number of secondary leagues/divisions that utilize collegiate spaces for competitions. You can also utilize the space to host watch parties for competitions such as the League of Legends World Championship.

Start a café/bistro and open it for 30 minutes before school and during lunch periods. Offer muffins, assorted candy, coffee, and hot chocolate at first. You can add smoothies and iced coffee after purchasing a commercial blender. You might average about $100 a day from the bistro – that’s approximately $20,000 each year.

Holiday Gift Basket Raffle: Ask local business and others for donations for the gifts. Have the gaming and esports people sell the tickets to family and friends. With luck this could bring you $3,000, depending on the volume of sales, of course.

Sell soda and healthy snacks to students and team members during practice. This could bring in approximately $50 a week – that´s $2,000 per year.

Build gaming computers in exchange for a donation to the team.

scholastic esports

Photo Credit: Katy Kildee

Back to the communication phase

Make sure you take a lot of pictures and video of esports activities. Write articles and put them on your internal school website with pictures and video. Share out news and boost interest in your programs.

Use a service like Mailchimp to create a newsletter and make sure all donors, sponsors, and other interested people get signed up – and begin to share the same articles in your newsletter, social media, and the local newspaper.

Show and tell what you are doing. Make your sponsors and donors look great by making your esports space look amazing.

Martin Fritzen is an esports author, speaker, and consultant who, in 2015 founded one of Europe´s biggest esports clubs, Sørby Esport. From 2017 – 2020, he spearheaded all esports activities at DGI, a Danish sports Federation with more than 6500 sports clubs. Today he is the head of esports at the Danish national federation of company sports. Leading all esports activities with Danish workplaces, educational institutions, and company sports associations. Martin’s work is based on years of experience as well as several years of talking with schools, universities, and sports clubs that offer esports activities and companies that are interested in sponsoring esports. “I hope I can inspire you to think outside the box so you can achieve your esports dreams like so many others have done”.

Martin Fritzen