If you ask any Tespa chapter leader, they'll tell you that building a gaming community from scratch is no easy task.
This month, we sat down with Adam Baugh, the charismatic founder of Rutgers Esports -- one of the largest and most competitive Tespa Chapters in North America -- and asked him to tell us the story of his humble beginnings and his challenges as a leader.
Hello Adam! Super excited to be talking with you today. Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself? What are you studying?
Adam: Well I just graduated last week with a degree in Exercise Science and Sports Studies with a focus in applied kinesiology. I’m SUPER involved in esports and gaming on campus. While towards the later end of my time here I was super focused on Esports and gaming, I was involved in the Rutgers Martial Arts Association in my early years. It was something that helped me because it got me out of my comfort zone. I knew what it was like to get beat up, and I was okay with getting beat up.
I became okay with failure. I was even happy to come back after getting beat up because I knew it was helping me get better.
I know you’re a part of the gaming club, but before we get into this whole Rutgers Esports personality position, how did it start? What’s your history with gaming?
Adam: Gaming has been in my life since I was young, at least 3 or 4. My mom’s family friend let me play her son’s PlayStation 1 while she was babysitting for me. The first game I played was Toy Story 2 and that lead me to arcade games at various diners and restaurants. After that I started jumping into the truly great PC games of the time: Backyard Basketball and Scooby Doo.
Then I picked up Pokémon and followed that train all the way to Super Smash Brothers Melee, which was my first experience with esports. I ended up challenging my summer camp counselor as a 6th grader because I thought I was the greatest player of all time. He had me go home and look up “Ken,” which lead to a very long night watching Smash on YouTube. This obsession carried over into Brawl until I found one of my friends playing StarCraft II in the beta.
At first, I would go over to my friend’s house and make fun of him for playing PC games. “Haha, what a nerd,” and all that. I eventually found myself going over to his house to play StarCraft II, because I didn’t have the game. This lead to me watching all the pros on YouTube through IPL and Dreamhack, and people like Husky and HD. I miss Husky and HD man, I really do. They got me into the game and I’ve loved it ever since. I remember seriously debating whether to continue watching MLG or go and hang out with my crush during high school. This passion for StarCraft overflowed and I expanded it into other games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and tons of different fighting games during 2012.
This all culminated in me joining Rutgers’ StarCraft club in Fall 2013 and later helping co-found Rutgers Esports in Fall 2014 with some incredible people. If there is one thing that esports has taught me, it’s that dreams really do come true. They’re not nearly as out of reach as you think and can be attained through hard work.
Now, your club has obviously been a big part of your college experience. What’s been your fondest memory with Rutgers Esports?
Adam: Oh, man that’s a loaded question. I’ve been so blessed to have so many great moments with Rutgers, but I’ll give you a macro level answer and a micro level answer. Gotta throw in those references!
So, the Scarlet Classic 3 back in May of this year was our biggest event ever. We had over 500 people, 13 different tournaments, 16 corporate partners; it was everything I wanted us to be when I started Rutgers Esports. We had Corsair and MSI fly out to the event, which was a new for us, and they built a PC live to raffle off to one of the attendees. Well, they’re about to give it away, and my officer board and I are up front seeing the crowd in the room. There were so many people there, dude. Like, if there was a fire man there, I’m sure we 100% would have broken fire code. The girl giving away raffles at the entrance had to get on top of the table just to see everything the front stage. It was insane. Everyone’s having fun, smiling, and laughing… it was beautiful.
I started to notice all the people from different walks of life there. Seeing these people come together like that for gaming and esports in general, and having a good time; that means the world to me. Even though you have to stay super late for cleanup, and there’s all this exhaustion in you and your officers, it’s all worth it to know you gave back to the community, which is who I everything I have done is for. It was a dream come true.
On the micro level, one of the things that I try to do is to emphasize the people and the connections you make at the club. Eventually you can get bored of the game, but you come out to the events and the club because of the people there. I remember specifically, someone went to the Tespa PAX East meetup with us. Now this is a great guy, but he isn’t super social, and doesn’t have a huge number of friends in the club, but he tagged along. He later thanked me for inviting him to the meetup as that meetup was more important than all of PAX for him, because of the new people he met and the conversations he had. The Tespa Meetup alone was worth the trip to Boston for him.
And I mean, when you hear something like that, how can’t you get all warm and tingly inside.
That sounds like a great time! Let’s jump into a rundown of your club. Can you tell me more about what it is that you guys do?
Adam: You know, that’s a hard thing for me to say, because I think the club offers something different to everyone who is involved. I try to create an environment for people to socialize and compete around games, but also to just make friends and to make those connections, and have them learn things about themselves. When you join an organization like this as an officer, you start to get real world experience: leadership, time management, conflict resolution, working as a team, how to run a business, things like that.
The biggest thing for everyone is to offer a community and home for everyone to relate with and turn to no matter what happens. That’s what we try to offer. Like I said before, it’s important to emphasize the people and the connections rather than the games, so I’ll incorporate different activities like movie nights and dinners.
Everyone loves food man, and that fosters an environment where everyone can hang out and be friends beyond the game. It is a family.
Well your club obviously has their act together. Let’s talk about the success that Rutgers Esports has seen this previous year. You guys have been hosting some huge events on campus, how’d you manage it?
Adam: First, I want to thank you for your kind words. Truthfully, we didn’t know we were doing well until people started coming up to us, because we felt like we were always competing against the California schools. We strive to reach the heights they’ve achieved. I remember, in an interview Zoe Saldana did for the 2009 Star Trek film, “that's all you need, that's all you want. To get the acknowledgment and respect from your peers” and that really holds true here for me and my team.
As far as success is concerned, there are a few different things I want to attribute it to. Obviously the first, and one of the biggest ones, was going to the Tespa Summer Retreat. That weekend completely changed my life. It changed everything for me. In the lead up to that weekend, I was doubting my path in esports. As a journalist for Esports Heaven, I had run into a horrible string of luck regarding stolen equipment (containing some my best interviews ever with HUGE names in the scene like Total Biscuit), broken equipment, and personal problems. Competing with huge outlets like ESPN and Yahoo and the resources they had wasn't helping either. It was beyond demoralizing and I didn’t know where I wanted to go with esports.
But meeting everyone at the Tespa Summer Retreat, who were there to make as big of an impact as I wanted to was invigorating. I remember in the beginning, in the big welcome ceremony of the retreat with the Rosens, you walk in, and you see a jacket with your name and school on it. That right there, made everything real for me. I’m in Irvine right now at Blizzard HQ. They flew me out to this event because they believed in me as a leader of the next generation of esports. The biggest people in collegiate esports believed in me, some random Filipino kid from Toms River with a dream. And honestly dude, I wanted to cry as soon as I saw it. That’s how big it was. I put all of the inspiration from the Retreat into Rutgers Esports and my team, and I think it helped immeasurably.
Now, as amazing as that was, the biggest reason I think, and people can disagree with me on my board, but I think the biggest reason for our success this year is having a dedicated graphic designer. Shout out to Jackie Chen, follow her on twitter at @acciojackie and show her some love. She, by far, is the biggest reason. She did the branding and logos for so many different events and our organization in general on top of making our incredibly professional partnership decks. Not only is she great about the design work itself, but she never asked for a dime, she just did it for the love of esports and passion she had for the community. We’ll always be in her debt because without her we wouldn’t have the strong brand identity and recognition or even the supporting partners we have now.
Having a great team in general helps immensely, we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help there. We had an awesome treasurer who helped us start generating revenue. We started talking to faculty and getting a lot of help from them. We went to PAX East, and our team got to talk to potential partners. We literally took our partnership deck in hand and pushed our pitch to all the companies on the floor. Some of them would brush us off and some would be super nice, but that was huge. A lot of the partners we met there, are the partners that ended up supporting our events.
But of course, the biggest reason is the amazing community. We can put on anything, but without the people coming out and playing, participating and watching, we couldn’t do anything. The support they have given us can never be repaid. Everything we have done is, and always shall be, for the community.
That’s wild! Let’s talk about your competitive programs specifically, you guys have had crazy success this past year, how does the club support your competitors?
Adam: So we’re pretty lucky in that Rutgers actually has an extremely rich history of performing at the highest level in esports. In the very first collegiate star league in brood war, Rutgers actually got top 4, so we’re talking way back. Obviously, Swedish Delight is rank 11 in the world in Super Smash Bros. Melee right now, and he’s an alumni. There are a lot of other amazing alumni but the history is there.
As far as what we did this year, obviously we can’t give the kind of support that a Robert Morris or UCI can, so we really try to highlight our players as best we can. Talk about when theyre on stream, have viewing parties and everything. But even more than that, I think that the credit really goes to the players themselves. They really took it seriously and had scrimmages and put in the work for practice. They wanted to win and it showed.
We were also really lucky for our overwatch team to have a dedicated coach. Having a coach always help because theres someone who looks at things from outside. Also, keep in mind, these guys are doing it out of passion and love, because we can’t do anything for them even though we would absolutely love to support them more.
As for hearthstone, honestly Matt, noblord, is just a monster at this game. He’s ridiculous. Not to discredit his teammates, but I think everyone would agree Matt is just insane at that game. Also, keep in mind that we didn’t have a hearthstone club this year, so Matt has been busy creating that while also being involved in the competitive aspect and as an eboard member, so massive shout out to him.
Our competitive success has really been about the players, cause we can’t necessarily give the support that they deserve that other schools do. We’re not really dictators about it, like, we don’t control how many hours they have to play, but we support them as best we can.
Now let’s take a step back. What’s been your inspiration in leading this chapter? What’s been key to your club’s success?
Adam: Of course, I’m beyond grateful to everyone that supports me but I’m going to choose two people, and one’s going to be a cop out here. That first one is going to be everyone I met at the Tespa summer retreat, because to this day, it is still the best weekend of my life. All of you guys inspired me, seeing how passionate everyone was, and how much I learned. I took all the knowledge I attained there and channeled it into Rutgers Esports. There’s a lot of people from the retreat that I made connections with and continued to help me out even beyond the retreat. They helped contribute to the success of Rutgers Esports too.
Outside of that, since I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll have to give a massive shout out to my mentor, Zaid Qmei. Zaid was the guy who first approached me when I joined the StarCraft club as a bronze freshman, and got to know me as he coached me through a game. Zaid means a lot to me because he was not only the first person to become a friend at Rutgers, but he encouraged me. He took me in from day one I was thinking of transferring out of Rutgers, and I had a conversation with Zaid, who was the president of the StarCraft club, about the direction of the club because I had become VP.
It was then that I realized how much I loved the club, and how much I loved Rutgers. He was the first person I brought up the idea of a unified Rutgers Esports organization, and he gave me his full support. He told me I should go for it, be president, and that I could really make it. His belief in me, and his constant pushing of me and encouraging me helped me understand myself and my qualities of a leader. It’s because of him, and his initial changes that StarCraft club started moving away from competition and into a community focused organization.
More than anything, Zaid was someone that was really supportive. The biggest moment for me, I remember, it was the messiest situation I ever had to deal with. Basically, there was an argument between people on my board, and it got very heated. Insults were thrown out, a lot of things were said, someone almost left the board. My handling of the situation was not nearly as adequate as I thought it would be at the time, and people weren’t happy with how things turned out.
It was really bad for me because I was very much doubting my abilities as a leader, and I was even contemplating stepping down and letting someone else take over the reins. So, I talked to Zaid about it to ask for his opinion on everything. He told me “Adam, you’re a great leader. But being a great leader doesn’t mean bad stuff won’t happen. Bad stuff will always happen. Things will always go wrong. What makes a leader great is that they’re able to minimize whatever damage has been taken, and keep people going in the right direction.” After that, I nearly cried, but it was really inspiring and I had no doubts about how I had to address the situation and from there on we could fix the issues and continue like we were supposed to.
His quote has also become a core philosophy about leadership that I try to uphold. Shout outs to Zaid because I owe everything to that guy; Without him I wouldn’t even be here.
Thanks Adam! This has been wonderful. With such a storied background, We’re obviously all excited to see what your next plans are. Where are you headed after graduation?
Adam: Thanks so much for the interview and taking the time out to talk with me! It’s truly an honor to do be chosen for this by you guys. I, uh, can’t really answer that for a fact. I don’t know. For the longest time, I was debating whether I wanted to go into esports full time, and it was mostly because I had other commitments later in life, and I wasn’t sure if esports would help me fulfill those commitments. I have a very large family in the Philippines that I want to be able to support and lift up, so I didn’t know if esports was the route.
But after talking to some friends and family, I’m going to try to make it in the wild world of esports so I’ve been applying to a lot of different companies. I’m looking to see how I can help out in anyway with the experience I’ve gained in broadcasting, esports journalism, and being president of Rutgers Esports.
Hopefully it all works out, because it is a dream of mine. But even if I can’t do it as a career, it doesn’t mean I have to exile it out of my life. It’s truly my passion and I always want to be involved in any way I can. If it doesn’t work out, then I really want to go and become a physical therapist which is what I went to school for originally. Of course, this means grad school and the like, but maybe then I can continue esports journalism on the side and still be involved. Maybe even combine the two!