MAGNOLIA, Ark.—An eSports team from Southern Arkansas University learned firsthand the value of networking at a gaming convention held in San Antonio, Texas Jan. 18-20.
Josh Turner, a senior mass communication: mass media major from Texarkana, Ark., took a group of gamers to PAX South, one of the largest gaming conventions in the country. The group of SAU students included Kaitlyn Hartwick, a freshman criminal justice major from Conway, Ark.; Alexander Cruz, a freshman computer science major from Tobyhanna, Pa.; Coleman Storey, a sophomore computer science major from Hope, Ark.; and Canan Douglas, a freshman from Hope. They traveled to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, and operated a booth for Gaming Outfitters.
PAX conventions celebrate video and tabletop gaming and are held annually in Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia and San Antonio. Turner has attended several times in the past and said it is a good idea for SAU students interested in working in the gaming industry to attend.
"It's all about meeting people and making industry contacts," he said. "It's great to have the necessary skills, but you also have to have contacts in order to get a job later on."
He and his group worked a booth on the expo floor and had access to game publishers, developers and potential employers.
"We were allowed into the actual showroom before it opened and after it closed, so that we could interact with people outside normal times," Turner said. "From the artwork side of things to coding, it's important for students to get comfortable working in this situation. The more they experience, the more likely it is they can work in this industry. The experience will help in jobs and hiring."
Cruz said that it was a longtime dream of his to attend an event like the PAX convention.
"We spoke to people I never dreamed about talking to," he said. Attending PAX and meeting people in the gaming industry allows students to "fill the gap" between players and "people who actually make the games," he said. "It was something I'll never forget."
Though Cruz plans to enter the field of cybersecurity, he believes an experience like PAX will help him in his chosen career.
"The more I know, the more I'll excel," Cruz said.
Hartwick said attending PAX conventions can potentially put students in close contact with representatives of such companies as Nintento, Microsoft and Alienware.
"It's a great opportunity," she said. "I will be going to PAX East in Boston this spring, and we will likely be going to E3, a related event, this summer. It is more industry-focused, so that would benefit us greatly as well."
Attending PAX is helpful not just for people in game design, Hartwick said.
"If someone here is getting a mass media degree and wants to work in that industry, has a website or anything they write for, they can go as media representatives and get contacts with media groups and developers. Once they graduate from SAU, they can bring those contacts to the table. That's why student activities and housing saw this a great opportunity."
Turner said Sandra Martin, dean of housing, helped make travel arrangements for the group, and Student Activities provided some funding.
"The more help we get from the University, the more likely it is that we can go and bring more people," he said. "We can better ourselves without worrying about finances, which helps us be more confident."
SAU's affordable tuition and the Computer Game and Animation Design programs create an attractive option for anyone interested in computer game development. The curriculum provides innovative ways for students to become active in the community and a healthy outlet for eSports participants. A Gaming Living and Learning Community is located in Honors Hall South, where a computer lab is available for eSports. Many students in Honors South are studying Game and Animation Design. Four computers have been donated to the lab and Turner has been in talks with potential sponsors in the industry. Turner hopes to grow eSports at SAU into a fully competitive program offering scholarship opportunities.