Adam Fitch: A closer look at the Esports Certification Institute

Esports Certification Institute OpinionEsports Certification Institute

The esports industry found their latest topic to debate on April 27, in the form of the Esports Certification Institute, an organization aiming to help people carve out career paths.

Founded by former esports executives from Dignitas and Clutch Gaming, namely Ryan Friedman and Sebastian Park, the Esports Certification Institute launched with a bang.

It helps that among the 42 members of their advisory board are some of the most respected and influential figures in the industry. The likes of G2 founder Carlos ‘ocelote’ Rodriguez, Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson, NRG CEO Andy Miller, and veteran caster Chris Puckett are all involved.

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Now, as with most of the contentious points of discussion that pop up in esports, the community was quick to pile on in an effort to be on the ‘right side’ of the debate. While I can’t prove it, I think it’s fair to assume that not every single commenter knew exactly what was afoot.

Esports Certification Institute foundersEsports Certification Institute
Former Dignitas and Clutch Gaming execs, Ryan Friedman and Sebastian Park, are the founders of ECI.

To break it down simply, the qualification consists of an exam with 120 multiple choice questions and an essay. ECI’s website has a study guide to help members prepare for the task ahead, though the example questions themselves brought up plenty of questions.

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Having spent a day discussing and thinking about the Esports Certification Institute, the plans behind it, and how it was framed, I believe miscommunication is a contributing factor towards much of the disgust.

A big selling point of having many big names involved as advisors was that certified individuals would gain access to them as part of a networking initiative. Membership connects you to the 42 advisors, theoretically granting permission to tap into their wealth of knowledge and experience. This aspect of the program could well be valuable and was under-communicated.

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Scholarships are said to be a big part of the ECI too. As well as the study guide having a pay-what-you-afford scheme that contributes towards paying for exams for those who can’t afford the hefty $400 price tag, the company is working with universities to generate scholarships for the exam.

Sources familiar with the institute have informed me that some advisors planned on paying for dozens of exams for those who can’t afford them. This, much like the scholarship efforts, was under-communicated, if communicated at all.

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Esports Certification InstituteEsports Certification Institute
The ECI certification has been devised to help people show that they’re qualified when applying for a job in esports.

The pricing of the qualification is perhaps the largest source of contention. Considering ECI claim that inclusion is a core value, people understandably have a problem with seeing how charging $400 is inclusive. It’s only available for those who can afford the fee. Students, people out of work, and those holding junior roles outside of the industry are unlikely to be able to afford the entry fee — this makes it exclusive by definition, not inclusive.

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In terms of what types of roles and careers the certification is aimed towards, surprise… this was poorly communicated too. It took a tweet from co-founder Friedman to properly establish the target audience. “We did not create this exam for casters/writers/similar talent positions,” he explained. “It’s designed for [traditional business jobs].”

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Esports is effectively an umbrella term of many sub-industries and is comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of different specialties. Creating an exam to cover such a broad topic is a flawed concept, as far as I and others are concerned, and they should have better communicated the true aim of the exam from the get-go.

Regardless of any and all flaws, the ECI qualification only has value if employers recognize it. If they choose not to do so then it truly does not matter whether an applicant is certified or not, thus eliminating any weight it could carry. If this doesn’t carry any weight, even with the best of intentions, then it’s literally a group of industry figures selling snake oil and laughing to the bank, which is anything but helpful to those looking for their start in esports.

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I wonder whether advisors who are part of the institute who also run companies — of which there are many — will give preferential treatment towards those who carry the certification. Answers are needed here soon.

Considering the pedigree of many of the advisory members, I have to believe that intentions were mostly pure on their behalf. They believe there’s a problem in the market — nepotism, barriers to entry, and so on — and sought to fix it, but they obviously haven’t stuck the landing based on the widespread backlash.

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If there is widespread nepotism in the industry, and colossal barriers to entry, then charging prospective employees seems the wrong approach. We should be looking at the companies that are actually doing the hiring as their processes are flawed and unfair.

As for now, we wait to see how the Esports Certification Institute pivots. Reducing the cost? Requesting action from companies instead of applicants? Not pivoting at all? They launched expecting to receive either widespread acceptance or hardly any reception at all, anything but such backlash, so no doubt they’re working diligently behind the scenes to make changes in an attempt to receive good faith from critics.

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