5 Tips For Starting an Esports Program Afterschool

Director of Youth Programs & Innovation Katie Anderson is back to give tips on how you can start the HOTTEST program in youth development right now- esports!

Chances are, you’ve had at least one youth in your Club or Youth Center ask you to start an esports program. And it is probably more than one! The good news is that you’re not alone! Esports is the number one program area requested by youth according to our member surveys. We know youth play video games at home and they’re extremely interested in bringing that passion into their Clubs. If you’re ready to get in the game, here are some tips for how to start your own esports program. 

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Tip #1: Talk to Youth in Your Club

Go straight to the source and get information from your members. Start by surveying youth to see how many are interested in an esports program. If you want to run a teen-only program, then you’ll want to talk to as many teens as possible. If you want to run a mixed age program, then you’ll want to talk to all your members. Be sure to ask those who aren’t already asking for a program. Esports programs tend to be dominated by boys, so take the time to seek out input from girls and other underrepresented groups.

Tip #2: Plan Your Space

Just like with any program area, an esports program needs its own dedicated space. You may already have video game consoles in your game room. Depending on how much interest you have from members, moving into a dedicated room may get you more success and let you have room to grow. It will also let you keep your equipment safer. If you’re running a teen-only program, it will also ensure that younger members don’t accidentally see game content that they’re not old enough for.

Tip #3: Give Youth Choice and Voice

If you’ve been in the Movement for a while, you’ve definitely heard this phrase before. “Choice and Voice” means allowing our members to make decisions and advocate for themselves in the activities and programs within their Clubs and youth centers. In an esports program, that means letting your youth be a part of as many decisions as possible, including:

  • Room design (this is a wonderful way to engage youth who are artistic but may be new to gaming)
  • Team names and logos
  • The game consoles you offer (don’t forget PC gaming too!)
  • Games
  • Leadership roles and other responsibilities

Tip #4: Recruit New Members

Esports is a great way to bring in new members, especially tweens and teens. To reach those new members, use a variety of advertising methods. First, start with your current members. Challenge them to bring a friend or two with them next time. Also consider reach out to partner organizations to advertise, including schools. Talk to the schools that your members attend, but also reach out to schools that you don’t currently have any members attending. Local video game, comic book, and hobby stores may also be great places to hang a flyer advertising your Club’s esports program.

Tip #5: Formalize Program Offerings

Just as with any sports team, an esports team needs consistent practices and schedules to run its best. Set a practice schedule for each week, or biweekly depending on your teens’ schedules. Here’s how the four types of sessions you’ll need to run for an esports program could be scheduled over the course of a week, keeping in mind that you may only hold sessions only a couple of times a week depending on your Club or Youth Center’s needs:

  • Monday: Team meeting. This is a great way to bring youth together and talk about the week ahead, as well as giving them choice and voice over activities. It also helps create a stronger sense of belonging among members. 
  • Tuesday & Thursday: Practice sessions. If your program is playing multiple games, schedule a separate practice session for each game. 
  • Wednesday: Skills day. Use this time to focus on specific skills, such as team communication, response time, strategic planning, or in-game tasks. 
  • Friday: Competition day. You can start with in-Club tournaments with your current members. As you grow your program, talk to other local Clubs in your organization and set up tournaments with their youth. You can also talk to Clubs in different regions or other local youth development programs for virtual tournaments! 

Esports at Boys & Girls Clubs are growing quickly, and we’re working hard to provide you with lots of resources. Stay tuned for more coming soon, but in the meantime check out the recording of our Esports Webinar. Lots of Clubs already have their programs up and running- the Carlson Unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Rockford streams matches live on Twitch! For individualized advice you can also sign up for a one-on-one consultation with BGCA staff by choosing the Sports, Esports, Games & Recreation option in the YD Consultations link.

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Do you run an esports program? What are your most popular activities and programs for teens? We want to hear! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

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