Meet Valhallan VP of Operations Jim MacDonald

A Q&A with the people person set on making Valhallan an inclusive, positive experience for all.

After an illustrious career in the airline industry — including his ongoing role as Logistics Coordinator for the Carolina Panthers — Jim MacDonald is thrilled to be part of Valhallan as the brand takes off.  

As our VP of Operations, all that experience in problem-solving and making customers happy are paying off in spades. Read on to find out what makes Jim tick and how he’s going to make sure Valhallan flies above the rest.  

"Whether you’re just starting out on The Legendary Path or dream of going pro, or just want to have fun — we want you to have an absolutely amazing experience."

What was your earliest video game experience?

I'm going to really date myself right off the bat. My dad bought us a Pong game.

So we had that, but that was not nearly as much fun as when Space Invaders came to the bowling alley in my hometown. We would go straight from school with as many quarters as we could find. You'd put your quarters up on a little rack and you can only put four at a time. So, you can only play four times before it was the next kid’s turn.  

Did that become an obsession for you? Have you always wanted to work in esports or the video game industry?  

No, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an airline pilot. I started my career working for Eastern airlines like my dad who was a pilot, but they went out of business before I could achieve my dream. Suddenly, there was this huge glut of experienced airline pilots, looking for jobs.

So, someone like me with very minimal hours flying a little private airplane around versus somebody that had been flying, 200 passenger airplanes — I didn’t get the opportunity to become an airline pilot.  

My lifelong dream was crushed, so we pivot. I started pursuing a managerial career within the airline industry.

But that’s one of the things you learn — how to pivot — and it’s something people working in esports get good at as this industry unfolds.

"Leadership is not just about making decisions about employees, franchisees, or players even. It’s about your approach to everyday life. "

When did you start to become interested in video games as an organized competition?

Through my kids, watching and playing Fortnite because I was trying to understand it.  

At the time around 2017 when Fortnite exploded, a lot of people I knew or that I was associated with, even NFL players (I did some work with the Carolina Panthers) were all playing Fortnite. So just trying to understand the game and connect with my kids.

Do y’all play as a family? Or is Fortnite not your game?

The big one that we all play as a family is Wii Tennis. But when we play, it's game on — competition all the way.

So how did you come to find yourself working esports?

It all started when I met Matt who is now the Valhallan Brand President. We were both baseball coaches on our sons’ teams. Over the years, as they were growing up, we became friends.  

One day Matt said, “Hey, I don't know if you're into any of this, but I've been doing some research on esports. Why don’t we put together a team-oriented esports organization?”  

And this was before Valhallan.  I didn’t know much about esports other than that both of my sons were playing Fortnite like crazy. So we dug in, and it’s been an amazing ride.  

What were some of the early lessons or growing pains you learned from opening your own center?  

When we started, Valhallan didn’t exist yet. We didn’t have the network of the other youth esports entrepreneurs that we do now. Instead, we relied a lot on my 15-year-old son, Brandon, in the beginning, because he had all the background. He had just built his own gaming computer. He knew all the gaming terminology and knew how to set up computers. There was a steep learning curve for sure.  

"Celebrate every win you get.    Stay positive. Dreams can come true."

When did you feel like you’d “made it” — that the esports training center was going to work?

From the first day of meeting the families and seeing the look on the kids' faces.

When you come into our arena, there are 22 high-end PCs with all the bells and whistles.

It’s been an amazing experience only to be even more amazing as we grow and develop more Valhallan franchises.

What are your dreams or expectations for Valhallan?

When I think about Valhallan, I think about the amazing experience that you see with kids. No matter who you are — whether you’re just starting out on The Legendary Path or dream of going pro, or just want to have fun — we want you to have an absolutely amazing experience.  

Not just when they’re practicing, but when they’re wearing their jerseys with pride and when they walk into an arena. I want people to see the Valhallan logo, and see our players and think, “Wow — that’s a Valhallan guy. I want to be part of that.”

And it's all about the experience. It's all about the culture.  

When somebody comes into a Valhallan, they're going to get the exact same experience. They're going to get a friendly smile. You're going to get an upbeat attitude. They're going to feel safe. They're going to feel comfortable. It costs nothing to set us apart from the rest, and good things will happen. Good things will continue to happen.

We can talk about revenues and stuff like that, but I want Valhallan to be something that when somebody sees our logo they think about the positive impact we’ve had on kids’ lives.  

That brings up a good point. What do you want parents to know about Valhallan?

I think the culture we’re fostering at Valhallan is very appealing to parents. Parents want to get their sons and daughters out of their rooms, and into a team or a community environment without the threat of bullying and toxicity.  

Some kids — not all, but some — players at our facility are on different levels of the Autism spectrum, or they have Tourette’s Syndrome. Or maybe they aren’t interested in traditional sports and haven’t made a lot of connections with their peers. They’re often nervous when they come in, but once they sit down and start talking with the other kids, they realize they are in a safe space, and all the sudden they're having a great time.

The parents immediately feel relieved, thinking, “This is a really great experience.” Once you start talking about the opportunities that their kids can have through esports, college scholarships, and career tracks in a growing industry, parents are sold.  

So we briefly touched on The Legendary Path. What’s that about? And why do you think it’s a boon for Valhallan?

The curriculum that we're putting together is called The Legendary Path. It’s an absolutely amazing experience that keeps our players engaged throughout an 18-month system. There's nobody else in the industry that offers anything like it.  

It's not just about the game. It's about teaching life skills. It's teaching mental health skills, and physical health training — getting you ready, and prepared, to compete are all part of The Legendary Path.  

As players advance through the curriculum, we start teaching about social media, colleges, careers, etc. Anything to get their minds thinking, not just about the game, but about their opportunities as esports players, coaches, and analysts on the collegiate and pro levels.

Last question: What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is not just about making decisions about employees, franchisees, or players even. It’s about your approach to everyday life.  

We’re doing the work to build this brand. One day we're going to look back on it and see that it's paid off very handsomely for everybody.  

This is going to be a great ride. I am so excited about it. Celebrate every win you get.  

Stay positive. Dreams can come true.

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