Apr 7, 2022
Donna Walters is the Founder and Executive Director of the Cal State Esports Collective, a College Esports Speaker and Panelist for over 10 events, a National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) Advisory Committee Member, a Sacramento Developer’s Collective Board Member, College Esports Event Organizer and the main TV Host for Game Players United (GPU-the show).
While Walters may have many titles, who is she beyond the LinkedIn profile? To begin, Walters is a half Japanese mother to an eleven-year-old daughter who she frequently calls her “Baby D.Va” (D.Va pictured below) since they both have a love for the game Overwatch.
Walters also plans to earn her MBA in Global Business and Entrepreneurship in Spring 2022 and has opted to complete an optional thesis as her culminating project to study the positive effects of gaming and esports on the community. Walters describes herself as a “gamer for life.”
What games do you like to play?
“I mostly played console games as a kid (Nintendo and Sega). Then, I stumbled across Duke Nukem 3-D randomly when my parents bought me a used IBM for school, but I didn’t know I had discovered gaming gold until later on in life,” said Walters, “I really got into PC gaming when Team Fortress 2 and The Orange Box came out. With the help of my roommates, I built my first gaming rig and have been building PCs ever since. I played a lot of Battlefield 3 and 4 (with a heavy focus on dog tag collecting) and other first-person shooters, but most recently I have been a big fan of Overwatch. I also love Animal Crossing, New Horizons, Mario Kart, Jackbox games, Wordle, Phasmaphobia, etc. I was never really into the matching games like Candy Crush, BUT I did buy almost every Nintendo console specifically for Mario Kart.”
What were you doing before you started working in esports?
“My first round of college was after high school but I dropped out to pursue a family and full-time career in community management and development,” said Walters, “I never thought I would have the chance to finish my degree, but I did! I was nervous coming back after a 10–15 year break from my education, as a “non-traditional” student. (A nice way of saying I’m old – haha). I was playing Overwatch and my friend told me he played for a team at his university in Texas. That is how I discovered college esports.”
How long have you been involved in esports?
“I was admitted to Sac State around the summer of 2018, but before I enrolled in my first class, I reached out to my campus’ gaming club and asked the club president where he envisioned the club’s direction. He told me he wanted to create a program for Sac State similar to UC Irvine Esports. Excited to build community and support our future leaders in their academic and professional success, I immediately signed up to help. Together, we created a plan and implemented new organizational practices and recruiting methods, built relationships in the industry, and created key partnerships,” said Walters.
Walters’ work with the then Sac State Club President resulted in exponential growth of roughly 2,000% over the course of 2 semesters (from about 15 student members to a Discord community of over 350 – which now sits at over 750 students, alumni, partners, and community members). As well as key partnerships with endemic brands and pro teams. Their team also won the Best Recreational Club at Sac State in 2019.
Soon after, she focused her efforts on supporting and strengthening the other esports communities on the remaining Cal State campuses by starting collaborations with the CSU Chancellor’s Office to ensure the student voice was actively participating in the decision-making process while they form a system wide initiative. After forming a new leadership team, together they connected all 23 universities and created the Cal State Esports Collective.
Walters collaborated with Twitch to create a team page for the group so they could highlight individual campus programs and clubs. She then created and executed the inaugural Esportspreneur Expo, a 5-day speaker series with a focus on esports through the lens of entrepreneurship, viewable on Twitch.
Walters also co-organized the inaugural College Esports International (CESI) tournament, the first esports event to take place at the Golden 1 Center (Sacramento Kings Basketball Arena). As well as co-organized and presented during the first Cal State Esports Unconference. Finally, Walters joined other organizations to combine efforts and create events to educate the educators on college esports such as: NAECAD, CESI, Esports Trade Association, etc.
What can you tell me about Cal State Esports Collective?
“We are a group of esports enthusiasts from all 23 Cal State campuses. We are composed of members from the Cal State Chancellor’s Office, administrators, faculty, staff and students,” said Walters, “We are student centric with the goal to strengthen the student voice and create equitable representation at the decision-making table as the Cal State System forms their esports initiatives, so that we can work together with the decision makers to ensure our community’s needs are being met and programming at all campuses are sustainable.”
Walters describes Cal States Esports Collective as ambitious, inclusive and unique. Cal States Esports Collective supports student success by focusing on the four pillars of esports: community, competition, education and entertainment.
What is the best part of your job?
“I have faced many adverse situations in my life and could not have survived them without the help and support from my community. Because of this, I am determined to dedicate my entire existence around supporting others and lifting them up, so that they can achieve their goals and dreams,” said Walters, “The best part of my job is meeting so many creative and capable minds who are truly passionate about what they do and seeing them achieve their goals.”
Have there been any students whose story has stood out to you during your time in the industry?
“I will never forget one student whose life changed because of college esports,” said Walters, “He is a first-generation student who was very shy and avoided social events because he lacked confidence to engage with groups face-to-face. After getting involved with esports on our campus, he started to excel. He exhibited natural leadership qualities and was quickly promoted to team captain by his peers. He started engaging more with our community online, which led to increased attendance during in person social events. Soon, he started engaging others to attend in person social events and became a staple in our community. He later accepted a club leadership role and actively engaged in group discussion during meetings.”
“He became a key member throughout the formation of our club’s efforts and in bringing esports to Big Sky Conference. Even though he wasn’t sure if he would continue his education during his time as an undergrad student, I was thrilled when he told me he decided to pursue his master’s degree. Although he is no longer involved with esports, I hear from him from time to time and each time we talk, he shares the latest updates in his life and the continued successes he has earned,” said Walters, “My heart fills with joy as I look back fondly from where he was when I first met him, a shy and antisocial individual, to the confident and successful team leader he has become.”
It is obvious that Walters is beyond passionate about esports and the community she has helped build in that realm, but there is even more to her. Walters enjoys fishing, traveling, and going to Disney Parks. In fact, her goal is to visit every Disney Park in the world.
What are some of your favorite things to do?
“My favorite thing to do is to introduce others to new experiences. My second favorite is to experience new experiences,” said Walters, “I am a total foodie! I love trying new foods, cooking for others, and creating edible art. Gaming conventions are also quickly becoming a favorite of mine as well as attending sporting events! Hockey and baseball are a couple of favorites. Mostly though, I love just being in the presence of others who are kind hearted and enjoy laughing.”
Walters describes herself as innovative, driven and collaborative.
“Although I have had the privilege of being in the right place at the right time to connect industry with students, all of the mentioned successes are solely due to the hard work and dedication of our student leaders. They are the ones who truly deserve to be celebrated and any success in our efforts are because of them,” said Walters.
Walters and her team are always looking for opportunities to build partnerships and collaborative efforts with like-minded individuals and organizations.