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March 13, 2024
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Success in Esports is More Than Just Being Pro Gamer

The 2024 CEC Invitational proves that there’s more than one way to be a pro.

Success in Esports is More Than Just Being Pro Gamer

I was invited to attend and host a panel at the 2024 CEC Invitational, a scholastic esports event held by Collective Esports Company at Cannon School outside Charlotte, NC. The school is a longtime member of the Valhallan Esports League (VHEL).

This was my second time attending the event. The first time was a couple years ago. The progress this event has made since then is remarkable.

The Transformation of an Esports Event

In just a few short years, the CEC Invitational has transformed from a “local vibe” LAN event to a full-fledged esports production. This was unequivocally the best produced and run event I’ve ever seen in the secondary scholastic space.  

Upon entering the event, the usual RGB lighting was present, but the depth and quality of the aesthetic would inspire a pro-scene production company. From backlighting on the stage, to the dedicated “gaming for fun” zone decked out with consoles, extra PCs and an iRacing set-up, professionalism was evident at every corner.  

Even the Twitch stream was run like the big dogs, featuring pro-caster Chris “Bearlight” Lee of the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) and Halo Championship Series (HCS) production scene.

It was all quite impressive. But the most impressive part was something that I only discovered days later.

Empowering the Next Generation

I was talking to Tram Tran, head of the CEC and director of esports at the Cannon School, about how excited I was to see footage from the professional photographer he had brought in (@caitlinshoots). He mentioned in passing that this was a student run production. I was blown away.

While Tram was involved in coordinating the production company and leveraging relationships with major manufacturers, this production was otherwise run by kids – from the run-of-show to the chaotic running around with headsets all over the facility.  

youth esports gamers at CEC invitational

Students were everywhere, ensuring that teams were queueing up, the production company was transitioning their lighting and video feeds on time, and casters were ready to jump on screen 5 minutes before their time slot.  

When I asked Tram how these kids could possibly have the capacity to run an event like this, his response was simple, “I spent time in the esports program teaching them about it.”

Beyond Gaming: Shaping Careers in Esports

This idea—that students can learn more than how to play games in esports – may seem obvious to folks working in the youth esports industry, but I think it’s one that’s overlooked by kids and parents who think the only way their gaming passion can find success is being a professional gamer. Let’s be frank — less than 1% of aspirational gamers ever make the pro scene.  

Tram has turned the status quo on its head with CEC. He’s shown kids who love gaming that there’s a place for them even if they’re “not that good” at Valorant or Overwatch 2. There’s a multi-billion dollar industry (and 100’s of universities) just begging for trained production specialists, tournament operators, game experts, and other esports career paths that support their businesses.  

The takeaway is simple: you don’t have to be a pro gamer to make a career out of gaming.

Celebrating Victory

I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the pride I felt in not only being asked to host a panel of college coaches about how high school kids can find opportunities in esports programs, but even more so in being the one to hand the championship trophy to the Valhallan team out of Cornelius, NC.

panel of esports coaches and youth esports players winning trophy

The Valhallan Cornelius arena has been at this event every year, and I watched them take a heart-wrenching loss in the finals two years ago. To see them raise their hands and hug in celebration when they finally got to walk away with a trophy reminded me of my travel baseball days as a kid, when every game felt like life-or-death, and the rare occasions when we got to walk away on top with a trophy in hand are the moments that, 20 years later, I still often reminisce about.  

These kids, despite not hitting a ball with a bat or throwing a pigskin 40 yards, got to experience that same feeling. And I got to be there to see it.

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