May 25, 2022
Fort Scott Represents the NJCAAE at the CECC
At the beginning of May, Head Coach of Esports at Fort Scott Community College, Ben Souza, and his team traveled 12 hours by van to get to the Collegiate Esports Commissioner's Cup (CECC) to represent the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports (NJCAAE).
During their 12-hour journey, Souza and his students decided to make some pit stops at nearby high schools.
“We used it as an opportunity to recruit as well as to go compete. So we took a 15 passenger van, and 10 of us went; I and nine students,” said Souza, “We left Fort Scott, Kansas, early on May 5th. Then we drove through the whole Midwestern area. We went through Springfield, Missouri, visited Ozark Missouri, and went through Poplar Bluff. Then, we cut on over to Paducah, Kentucky, stayed there for a night, had some good food, and visited their high school the following morning. We needed to be in Atlanta on the 6th in time for check-in and headshots.”
How do you recruit students at the high school level?
“My favorite way to recruit is to set up a table with my students. We have brochures and a checklist where students can sign up and I'll call them to touch base later. But I always like to get a big crowd together in the cafeteria,” said Souza, “I tell the students if they can beat me at Smash (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate), then I'll give them a scholarship that day, and so that attracts some attention. Even if students have no plans on going to Fort Scott, they just want to be able to beat me to brag about it.”
Souza explained that their visit to the high school in Springfield was really accommodating for his team. According to Souza, the school pulled out a large flat-screen TV for his team to use in the cafeteria, which caused about 100 students to cram around the screen and watch gameplay.
“We got a lot of names. I think I got close to 2,030 names out of that particular school,” said Souza, “Paducah, Kentucky, was more of a quick stop. We just popped in, said hello, dropped off some material and that was it. We had a couple of students that were interested from there as well.”
Souza explained that when recruiting he speaks to students in all grades, but tends to follow up with the seniors.
“I don't think it's too early to begin building relationships with any high school students because I think you're going to have better academic success and maybe some more loyalty from a student that has wanted to go to Fort Scott or to any other school,” said Souza.
In your opinion, how did CECC go for you and your team?
“We were very appreciative of the opportunity to go. It was huge for us. We competed in Valorant and I brought a couple of my Valorant casters who also play Smash as well and they got to watch some of the Smash tournament. We had a little recruiting booth setup, but I think the Smash players had ulterior motives to set up a Smash station at a recruiting booth and just play with all of the collegiate Smash players that were there. So I think it was good networking for them,” said Souza.
When the Fort Scott Greyhounds weren't at the tournament, they were driving around and exploring Atlanta. Some of the students hadn't been very far outside of Kansas before. Souza explained that CECC was a great time for him and his team filled with “good competition, good company, and good networking.”
The Greyhounds went to the CECC representing the NJCAAE, do you find it to be beneficial being a member?
“Yes, the NJCAAE has been very good to us. And I believe it's one of the biggest collegiate conferences out there right now. Their partnership with Generation Esports has been huge as well because they have a lot of connections with HSEL. I've developed a lot of relationships that way,” said Souza, “The NJCAAE is really our main ticket to compete. Everything we do in a promotional sense, like when I seek out sponsors, sponsorships, etc., is to support us competing within the NJCAAE. During the main season, we compete every week. Valorant and Smash are our main games, but we're always looking to expand. When we first started, we didn't have the NJCAAE, we had to go to individual tournaments to compete and it was a lot of work. It was very stressful having to learn the expectations for all of those different conferences, making sure the students were all meeting those expectations and competing. So it has been a fantastic experience competing in the NJCAAE.”
This is Souza’s third year coaching for the Gaming Greyhounds at Fort Scott.
“We've offered a variety of titles over the years from League of Legends to Overwatch, and now we've kind of honed in on Valorant, Madden, and Smash Brothers,” said Souza.
Souza is also a network specialist on campus. When the athletic department decided to introduce an esports program, they put Souza in charge of building out the battle lab on the IT side. He worked with some of the ISPs to bring in the internet.
“I think they were hunting for a coach and weren’t having a lot of luck at the time,” said Souza, “The Athletic Director approached me and said, ‘Hey, you seem really invested. I know you play games competitively. Would you like to be the coach?’ and I said 100%, yes. I am a gamer; and I think that was the criteria at first. But, I also have a little bit of competitive experience. I wasn't on any pro teams or anything like that, but I've always been heavily attentive to everything that's happening in the esports world.”
“I'm just very proud of all of our students and really of any students in esports. It's a big undertaking, I think it's unspoken and may be unrecognized, to some extent, just how much pressure is on these students to represent collegiate esports because it is new and it is growing. I just think these students are pretty fantastic and I'm happy that I can help support them on their journey,” said Souza.