Esports journalism course teaches students to cover competitive gaming
The Dallas Empire recently defeated the Los Angeles Thieves 3-0, drawing the Call of Duty League’s “Super Week” to a close after a victory on the third map thanks to a 38-kill showing from Cuyler “Huke” Garland.
IU students wanting to learn exactly what that means, as well as the low-down on all the major aspects of competitive gaming, can take a class in Esports Journalism through The Media School.
The course is in its third year and is taught by Sean Morrison, BAJ’12, a former associate editor of esports at ESPN and editor-in-chief of Upcomer, a new esports publication set to launch this spring. He was interested in designing an esports class after seeing successful journalists in the field driven by passion for the games, but with limited formal education in reporting and writing.
“When you look at the traditional journalism field, that’s something you’ve never seen,” he said. “That was something that really stuck out to me. There’s a real opportunity within esports journalism to help people grow and help them develop.”
Major mainstream publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post have recently expanded into serious video game coverage. Associate professor Galen Clavio said he wants IU students to become more familiar with covering esports as the industry expands.
“Sean being involved has been really lucky for us, because he’s such a great ambassador for the world of esports coverage and esports journalism,” he said.
Students in the class learn the basics of popular esports video games such as League of Legends, Overwatch and Call of Duty, and then use that knowledge to write in-class recaps of portions of games. Morrison’s main goal for the semester is for every student to have at least one story to pitch to an esports or mainstream outlet and get paid for, with the class having a heavy emphasis on freelancing skills and professionalism.
Morrison said he emphasizes an individual approach to the course, as students can come in knowing more about esports than traditional journalistic writing and vice-versa. Early lessons focus heavily on Associated Press style to get everyone on the same page, and frequent one-on-one editing sessions tailor support to each student’s need and level.
The class also features guest speakers, including ESPN’s Mina Kimes and video game journalists such as Jason Schreier of Bloomberg, Cecilia D’Anastasio of WIRED and Roland Li, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the esports history book “Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of eSports.”
Declan McLaughlin, BAJ ’20, took the class in its first semester and worked as a teaching assistant for the course the next year. Now, McLaughlin is a freelance esports journalist, writing for specialty outlets such as ESTNN.com and win.gg, and working as a freelancer and part-time editor for Upcomer. His work ranges from quick news updates, features on teams and players, and coverage of the business and industry itself.
“I wanted to do esports journalism for a while, but I didn’t know how to break into it, and I saw that class and was like, well, there it is,” McLaughlin said. “I can finally figure out how to do it.”
Morrison’s emphasis on pitching stories the students worked on in class led to one of McLaughlin’s, “Nearly 5 Months After Release, a Reflection on the Successes and Failures of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” being published in esports publication Inven Global while he was a student in this class — his first-ever pitched and published professional piece.
McLaughlin said he learned vital information from Morrison, such as who to reach out to for which organizations and leagues, the importance of managing mental health and burnout, the correct style for esports terms and to never approach a player for an interview right after a loss.
He said the class showed him he could cover what he loved — the nuanced industry behind people playing games he had at a higher level — instead of what he thought he had to do to break into journalism.
“I finally got to cover what I was passionate about, and that made me really happy even though I am grinding to this day. I’m still smiling doing it,” he said.
Clavio and Morrison said they expect esports to grow in the future, making the class a great opportunity to give IU students the skills that will set them apart as more major publications turn to covering esports.
“It’s going to continue to be a place that mainstream outlets are looking into, which produces a ton of opportunities for people that have even a rudimentary knowledge of esports to get some freelance work done, to look at full-time positions,” Morrison said. “It’s something on their resume that separates them out and says, ‘Oh, I can connect the dots from what you usually work on to a much younger audience that you want really badly.’”