Yesterday, prompted by the people who run esportscareer.org I got involved in some discussions about volunteering in esports. It was a healthy discussion in the main, but 140 characters is not enough to to discuss something as important to the eco-system of esports.
Up front, I’ll admit I believe volunteering can really work. After all, it worked for me (eventually!) and it’s worked for hundreds of the current top crop of our esports personalities. Some argued that this was perhaps the old way of doing things, that esports has now come to a place where the volunteer model shouldn’t be needed and while that is a fair opinion, we shouldn’t forget that many other industries operate on the same basis, though they call it internships. Often these roles eventually lead to full time jobs (often the original reason for doing volunteer work) but as many times lead to rejection. When that happens, people will obviously have a dim view of volunteer work or internships, that’s natural, but does that mean we should stop offering roles in esports to those who are most passionate?
I think its important to remember also that not every company starts off life with money or has immediate success. This could also be said for many teams and organisations competing in esports. So while they start off without money, it would be unreasonable to expect them to pay anyone. The volunteers in this instance are doing it because they want to, through the love of their game, their organisation or just to be involved in esports at some level. Often, these same people will have other jobs that pay the bills, so I think its very important for us to understand the distinction between someone being asked to do volunteer work for a well established, well funded company on the basis of using them instead of paying them and a company offering a position in a volunteer role on the basis that when the company succeeds, so will the volunteer. It is not always unreasonable for the well established company to offer volunteer work, especially if its one off event work that allows younger, college or university based people a chance at getting some real experience and giving them the opportunity to show what they can do. An often asked question in this business is “how do I get the experience everyone keeps asking me for in order to get a job?” and volunteering in these circumstances can be a great way to do just that.
There is another angle to this too, the lack of any professional qualifications for esports roles. Many roles of course can closely relate or have transference skills between other industries, but not all of them can. With the lack of proper courses, university programs and other educational elements to train for specific roles, it makes it much harder to recruit for companies, especially when they don’t have the money or time to make mistakes with hires. Hopefully over time, we will see these courses increase (there are some around, but they are few and far between) and in turn perhaps lessen the volunteer route for many and instead lead directly to paid roles that match skillsets.
I’ll also acknowledge those who raised the points about exploitation. Having spent a long time in this industry, it is fair to say I have been the subject of this in the past, sometimes not receiving pay I was promised or made to work extremely long hours without compensation and in one instance being refused a refund on my travel costs because the event went on beyond public transportation times and I had to get a taxi. Others have had far worse experiences than I have, there are some real horror stories out there. With that said, I don’t believe all companies are out there trying to hire people to screw them over or take advantage of them. There are some of course, but even then I often find they aren’t taking advantage or exploiting them with intent, but sometimes through a naive belief they are “doing them a favour”. There are just a very small minority who are doing it wrong on all levels and we should absolutely not tolerate it, but I think the distinction is important.
One of the most important observations in all of these discussions (at least for me) was that we do need to acknowledge that volunteer work or internships are not for everyone. In fact, I’d argue strongly it is very personal and each person has a unique set of circumstances that will either allow or stop them from doing volunteer work, even if they decide they want to. Some will be older than college age, some will have young families, some will have priorities which dictate their lives in another direction and others will have full time jobs (or two or three of them) to hold down alongside their “hobby”. And that’s a key point too, for most people in esports, it started as a hobby that we hoped to one day get paid from and perhaps we forget that sometimes, especially as it seems that romantic way of looking at it may have diminished significantly today.
Finally, I’d like to clear up something from yesterdays limited debate on Twitter. Just because I volunteered and it worked out (at the fourth attempt by the way!) doesn’t mean I automatically believe everyone should have to go through the same thing I did to get a job in esports. In fact, far from it, I love the fact that those who have stuck with esports for over a decade, those who were the original trail blazers in our industry working for no money and long hours paved the way for the likes of me and you and allowed us the very opportunities we have in esports today, such as a wealth of paid full time professional jobs. It’s not about tooting their own horn on how they arrived in paid jobs either, I am sure like me, all of them would agree a much less stressful and fruitful road would have been preferable had they had the option. But, having trodden the road to get where they are, there is a degree of “if they can do it, so can I” and I think that’s a healthy side effect to consider.
I asked people to RT if they had done volunteer work that led to a full time paid role. I didn’t ask as a way of glorifying volunteer work or trying to prove any point, I just wanted to see if we could find out just how many had gone down that road. For the record, more than 140 did and that just shows how many people volunteer work, worked for. That’s not to be ignored, even if I agree we still need to have more paid roles and less volunteer ones.
TLDR: Volunteering can be good, but its not for everyone and we should never let anyone take advantage.