The National Esports Association is paving the way for aspiring gamers while fostering inclusivity

Emilee Geist

As gaming becomes an increasingly popular career option among Gen Zers and millennials alike, one nonprofit organization is rolling out a number of initiatives designed to help its students make a transition to esports.

Based in Rochester, N.Y., the National Esports Association (NEA) offers several programs that provide “pathways to success for aspiring esports athletes,” according to its website.

Working in conjunction with several colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada, the organization develops on-campus esports programs and arranges tournaments to gauge student interest. One of those tournaments, for example, centers on the popular Nintendo game Super Smash Bros., where students compete in a one-versus-one tournament bracket.

NEA also hosts students at its own facility, where they train with expert gamers. Certified teachers from Twitch, for example, teach Minecraft players how to design their own virtual communities.

“For practice-wise in the studio, what [the students] are doing is playing a game,” Lori Bajorek, the president of NEA, told In The Know. “So … we’re actually utilizing something like Mario Kart and then actually commentating on it, doing some casting training, so they have real-life experiences so they can actually take this and actually translate it into other areas of their study.”

But, perhaps, the one initiative that Bajorek is most proud of is the Online Network for Education (ONE), which, she says, brings “the world into the classroom.”

“We work in Australia. We work in the Czech Republic, in Canada,” she explained. “But the concept is the classroom is actually participating online with a teacher, but then they’re being guided and brought in with people around the world, in the globe …”

Through ONE and its programs, NEA has partnered with NBA Draft prospect Markus Howard, the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities, gaming gear brand HyperX and the Strong Museum of Play.

“One of the things that the NEA is really, really trying to do is being able to provide a community for these kids to be able to play in a safe manner,” Howard said.

That includes embracing diversity and inclusion.

“Do you lead by example?” Bajorek said. “And how you do that is creating a nurturing environment where the people feel welcome … As an educator, it is your job to make sure that everybody in that room feels they have a part to play and that they are there for a reason and that they are part of a community that we’ve developed.”

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