As an undergraduate, Sergio Brack made a name for himself as co-founder of College CoD — the College Call of Duty league — and president of the University of Mississippi’s esports organization. After graduating in 2020, he became director of esports at Ottawa University in Kansas.
Today, he directs the esports program at the University of Maryland. He spoke with EdTech: Focus on Higher Education about his path to success, college-to-career pathways and the need to improve diversity within the sport.
Additionally, we're proud that Sergio currently serves on the NECC's Advisory Board.
EDTECH: When you graduated two years ago, would you have imagined that today you’d be leading esports at the University of Maryland?
BRACK: Definitely not. My original goal wasn’t even to work in esports. I double majored in sociology and psychology, planned to go to law school and was admitted at Ole Miss. A mentor suggested that I try to work and lead in esports, so I took a leap and ended up landing on my feet.
EDTECH: Which experiences helped you transition from student gamer to program director?
BRACK: A lot of where I am today is because I participated in passion projects. Back in the day, a lot of esports leagues were completely student-driven, with no pay. One of the best examples is co-founding College CoD. In college, if I was told “no,” I wanted a valid reason for why I couldn’t do something or why it wasn’t possible. At our first esports club meeting, I asked if they had a Call of Duty team. Everyone laughed and said, “No, who would want to play Call of Duty at the collegiate level?” That was all it took for me to start my own league.
From there, I worked with a nonprofit that was helping Black and brown faces and historically Black colleges and universities get more in tune with esports. I wanted more representation of southeast esports and clubs, so I created the Southern Esports Invitational to showcase that.
These were projects that I wasn’t getting paid for, but I had a genuine passion and wanted to help. Now, when you go to a school and ask if they have Call of Duty, you don’t get laughed at. That participation got my name around so that people knew about me and what I brought to the table.
EDTECH: Other than becoming a professional gamer or program director, what career paths are available for students interested in esports?
BRACK: One goal of our program is to teach student workers that you don’t have to be the best gamer ever to have a career pathway. We have roles in graphic design, social media management, team management and coaching, and broadcast commentary and observation. Professional teams have sports medicine specialists to train players and professional chefs to provide healthy meals.
A lot of people view gaming as having a stigma attached to it, thinking that it’s nonsocial or won’t lead to a professional future. People are taken aback by the number of opportunities esports offers. I genuinely don’t think there’s an academic major that I couldn’t relate to esports.
EDTECH: How does your undergraduate background influence how you mentor students now?
BRACK: It allows me to have more empathy for their experiences as competitors. A lot of directors don’t have that understanding and knowledge. This might make it harder to be empathetic about things like scheduling and mental health, which are big parts of our program.
I know how overwhelming it can be to compete at a high level while balancing school, work and a social life. I think that’s helped our players feel comfortable showing up in my office and talking things out.
EDTECH: How would you describe diversity in collegiate esports?
BRACK: Honestly, it’s abysmal. How many collegiate esports directors or even players are people of color across the country? When you look at the top level of competition, there are very few environments where you see people of color on those stages. There definitely have been strides with women in the industry, but those changes don’t have any substance when a woman can still log on to a game and within five minutes have a bad experience that makes her not want to play anymore.
There has to be a big shift in how we look at game inclusivity and accountability. A lot of coaches say that diversity and inclusion are part of their programs, but that’s not visible in their practices and recruitment. If we start being proactive in terms of doing the work and not just saying it’s important, we would make a lot more progress.
Sergio Brack (right), Director of Esports at the University of Maryland, leans on his experience as a former esports athlete to help mentor students. Photography by Edgar Artiga.
EDTECH: What are some of the factors that contribute to people of color and HBCUs not being well represented in esports?
BRACK: I think it is the socioeconomic differential because, realistically, most esports are played on higher-end equipment, not a traditional PlayStation or Xbox. If these students don’t have a pathway early on because they don’t have access to that technology, it makes it hard for them to catch up.
I think a lot of administrators could see the benefits, but they aren’t always aware that esports exists. Once that digital divide is gone, we’ll start to see more HBCU teams spring up and become successful because they have the resources to take their teams to the next level.
EDTECH: Having worked at universities of different sizes, what suggestions would you give to smaller colleges to create career-focused pipelines for students?
BRACK: Develop relationships and internship opportunities with local gaming entities and professional teams, even if they are located in nearby metropolitan areas. Giving students hands-on experience goes a long way. If you don’t have the money to put toward it, be persistent about building those relationships.
EDTECH: What advice would you give to program directors or administrators who want to make their programs more career-focused?
BRACK: When we hire student workers, we ask them about their goals related to esports. Is this a job they’ll have during school, or do they have aspirations to pursue esports after they graduate?
Knowing your students and their plans early on is important to helping them develop career pathways. Building a program that contributes to their future also helps the university grow a strong alumni base. Success stories go a long way when you’re trying to get extra funding or attention for your program. All of those things contribute to a better esports career pipeline.
ABOUT THE NECC
The NECC has sponsored both regular season competition and championships across a wide variety of popular titles since 2020. With more than 300 colleges and universities currently competing, the NECC strives to be a positive home for the collegiate gaming community.
The NECC fosters innovative competition experiences, provides quality broadcasting services, and works to support an inclusive community within collegiate esports. The NECC was started as a way to provide the collegiate gaming community with the respect it warranted and deserved. The conference prides itself on responding to the needs of its schools, directors, coaches, and most importantly - its players.