Western Washington University Gaming Association is an officially recognized student organization serving as a centralized support network for affiliated gaming communities at WWU.

Andrew G. (1st WWUGA VP), WWUGA Casual Day, Pre-WWUGA competing in the DigiPen Dragon's Cup

Prior to WWUGA’s establishment, no such system existed at Western. With attendance fragmented across the 300+ student clubs, work, and other extracurricular activities, the gaming scene at Western was spread thin. Gaming clubs starting up during its respective game’s popularity would often find their membership dwindling quickly after the school year starts, as students learn to manage their time accordingly to their college lives.

At the time of WWUGA’s inception, just a shy over 1,000 student gamers were involved in their communities. Western Washington University, a public university with over 15,000 students, could do better than this. According to the Pew Research Center in 2003, 65% of college students in the study were found to be gamers–and with gaming culture becoming more mainstream, that statistic is certainly higher now.

View of downtown Bellingham and WWU picture by WWU

There are numerous factors that influence interest, in club activity and in general. Meeting too much or too little. Playing the same game all the time. Lack of facilities/accommodation. Club scheduling conflict. Casual vs competitive interest. Satisfying both new and old members. Preference/convenience in meeting online. Not having the support network necessary. Trouble getting the word out. Finding prizing and funding. Getting the proper representation. The list goes on and finding the right mix of what works for each campus isn’t simple.

It’s often a similar–but ultimately different challenge for everyone. Every leader goes through these motions and it’s easy to be intimidated, to get comfortable, and to leave those tasks for another day. For a student leader especially, their time there is short and they must make the most of it, so they can equip successors with the knowledge and skills they’ve accumulated through all these trials, and hope they take the gaming scene to newer heights.

Lindy W. (2nd WWUGA Pres.) and WWUGA members at Snow Day

Prior to founding WWUGA, I held officership positions in three gaming clubs–one of which I founded–League of Legends, Dota 2, and Overwatch. I also coordinated esports teams for Dota 2 in CSL, Overwatch in Tespa’s Collegiate Series, and Heroes of the Storm in Tespa’s first Heroes of the Dorm tournament. However, it wasn’t until after I founded the Overwatch club at Western–which came after we finished competing in the Overwatch TCS–I realized more could be done at this campus on a larger scale.

So much had to be done, I didn’t know where to start or how to do it. But I knew I wanted student gamers to have a place where they can share experiences with each other, create memories that would last forever, and cultivate their passions to help them realize their full potentials. I also knew if there was a chance I could make it happen, I should take the intiative and simply set out to do it, because it was something I believed in and I didn’t want to wait for someone else to come along and do it for me. This was an opportunity, not only to be a part of a project, but to mold something out of my own vision, of my own volition.

UW's Washington Gaming Association picture by J. Oh/WGA

I looked to other universities adjacent to Western like UBC and UW, and soon I found myself connecting with Kevin Hoang–co-founder of the Washington Gaming Association, now at Twitch–and talking about what inspired Kevin to do what he and his leaders did. Their individual communities came together, their leaders collaborated with each other, their resources and knowledge shared with one another. Peopl are all stronger together, than they are alone. Mankind did not make it to the moon by the wit of one person alone, it took the efforts of a diverse group of people in an effort to literally reach newer heights.

This burst of creation didn’t happen spontaneously, rather it built up until the conventions in place couldn’t hold it anymore–and in that moment, that spark of creation, action is put forth. But action without a plan is unwise, as what was essentially created was not unlike a business. A formal plan, an organizational structure, a set of values, a mission statement for the leaders, a vision statement for the members, a culture for the community, pitch decks for the sponsors, etc. A person might think, why all this work for video games? It’s exactly that kind of reasoning why student leaders have to put in the work to show that they’re not playing around.

UCI Esports Gaming Arena, Cal Esports Win Overwatch Fiesta Bowl 2018 pictures by UCI and USAToday

Becoming business-like is not a bad thing, in fact, it legitimizes what students are doing. The administration, sponsors, leaders, etc. won’t take students seriously if something superficial is given. They need to know that students are willing to step up to the plate and do the work. Look at Cal Esports (UC Berkeley), UCI Esports (UC Irvine), UW’s planned Fall 2018 esports arena & gaming lounge–none of that would be possible with a half-baked plan.

So I got to work and applied for Western to be instated as a Tespa chapter. Yugina Yun, my Tespa admissions officer at the time gave some advice in what they were looking for in potential chapters and why. Unfortunately, we were denied but asked to reapply again when we had a university-recognized system in place that would not only serve as a single point of contact but also as a game-agnostic hub for gaming across campus. With this newfound knowledge, I began my research to find out how this system could benefit participating communities and what resources we had in place to support this initiative.

Western Washington University meets Tespa

Students typically do not play just one game, in fact they may be interested in many games of various different genres, devices, etc. The popularity of games is also ephemeral, with new games coming out every day, it’s often difficult for player retention as people move onto different games. This makes it hard for games with a smaller or niche audience to even get the word out and for popular games to stay relevant and interesting. To remedy this fundamental problem, the solution is to raise awareness and be inclusive of each others’ games. The majority of students may not even know if a club exists if it isn’t marketed or talked about. If this is one thing that can be promised to the gaming communities on campus and if there is an active plan to carry it out, this is where communities can begin growing with each other, through the system that’s been created.

However, when putting this plan into action it is advised to never overpromise with the risk of underdelivering. While communication is key when coordinating with leaders of those gaming communities, even mentioning the potential of something can cause miscommunication and mistrust. Starting small and getting everything in writing is the best way to ensure that no relationships are broken down before even beginning.

In the end I was able to get eight clubs in total to support the WWUGA iniative, with promise of cross-promotion of events and each others’ clubs and quarterly cross-club events through WWUGA. I put together a pitch-deck and presented the initiative to Western Washington University, with statistics and examples from other universities to help back the proposal. On February 27th, 2017–only a few months after that spark of creation–WWUGA was official. Soon after, WWUGA was published in the local school newspaper, student council candidates reached out for our support in their upcoming elections, we held our first event ever, new members joined our gaming communities, we launched the WWUGA website–we even won an award from the school that year. WWUGA eventually reapplied for that Tespa chapter status and was finally accepted.

Gaming on campus received more recognition internally, which allowed us to pursue new initiatives like the push for official university recognition for esports. Having this presence on campus even allowed us to easily connect with communities outside of our campus–for Husky Gaming Expo 2018, our Game Design club collaborated with University of Washington’s own Game Design club to put together a fantastic demo area of games they worked on for attendees to enjoy. We even had our fair share of sponsors reach out to us, which was something that never happened before. All this newfound attention and recognition can be overwhelming, and I had to keep reminding myself that the relationships that WWUGA will build with others must be mutually beneficial–law of equivalent exchange. Also to never forget what I’d set out to do and the people I did it for, that’s what all that initial structure I mentioned earlier was for.

Casual Day Soylent Pong, WWUGA Beluga by Kyle H.

This isn’t to say that after establishing WWUGA, that we did not have our fair share of trouble. Even when rules are in place and enforced, they can be removed, rewritten, and exceptions can be made. Making sure communities’ growing needs are met, making sure the right leaders are in the right place, keeping up with meetings and communication, there is a lot involved on a macromanagement scope. Like any startup, there’s a point in time after founding the business where the work will scale, and adapting quickly to those changes is crucial.

At one point, I shouldered a good portion of the initial responsibilities because having that lack of information gap helped with knowing exactly what to do with the ability to do it immediately, which allowed for WWUGA to move along quicker. I was only able to make this happen because I was fortunate to have an abundance of free time in my last few quarters at Western. If I had a few more quarters at WWU, I would certainly have brought on teammates earlier. Delegating responsibilities is important in lowering stress, sharing experience, and building trust. These are complex processes and the more structure there is in place, the smoother it will be to scale up.

Mike L. WWUGA Founder/1st Pres., WWU Academic West

Even with WWUGA up and running, it didn’t mean that the hard work was over. An organizational system like WWUGA works best when things are perpetually in motion, which means thinking of new ideas, staging them into potential projects, assigning a taskforce to take lead on those projects and follow through, etc. These organizational systems work not because of a game’s popularity, a close group of friends in my club, having the best esports teams, and so on–none of those ideas alone, it’s taking ALL of them and making the impossible, possible. People don’t know what they can do until they set their mind to it and finally do it. Inspiration is powerful.

I have my wonderful club leaders, my friends, our staff advisor Brian Swanson, WGA and Twitch’s Kevin Hoang, my family, and WWU to thank for encouraging me take this opportunity to create a welcoming environment for gaming on campus that will only continue to grow and become better through those to come after me. Although I’ve graduated soon after founding WWUGA, I still advise from time to time but it’s always so fulfilling to see what my successors can accomplish even after I’m gone. As a last word of advice, picking up some light business reading can go a long way when creating/managing a gaming association.