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Logan engages passion for esports into career ambitions

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Host Joy Walczak speaks to Caledonia High 11th grader Logan Reimbold, Director of esports at Aquinas College, Will Wolf, and Director of Workforce Development at Kent ISD Ryan Graham.

A passion for gaming turned 11th grader at Caledonia High Logan Reimbold into an esports competitor who now dreams of a career in engineering and the growing esports space. Director of esports at Aquinas College Will Wolf and Director of Workforce Development at Kent ISD Ryan Graham are helping Logan explore emerging options and extend an invitation to the first ever Kent County Cup esports competition on April 27 at Kent Career Tech Center.

Joy Walczak (JW): Welcome to the Your Dream Is Our Dream podcast where we celebrate student success one dream at a time. This program is made possible by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU. I'm Joy Walczak. And today we're talking about e-sports with a few people who know a whole lot more about it than I do. We have Logan Reimbold. He's an 11th grader at Caledonia High. We also have with us today Ryan Graham, Director of Workforce Development at Kent ISD, and Will Wolf, director of eSports at Aquinas College. Thanks to all of you for being here today.

All: Thanks for the invite.

JW: Well, I want to get started and I can't wait to hear about Logan's dreams and how they tie to eSports, but first, Will, will you share with us what exactly is eSports?

Will Wolf (WW): Yeah, so if you're a parent listening, you're probably thinking immediately with eSports either you have no idea, or you're thinking that there's somebody in your basement with Cheeto fingers and a Mountain Dew next to him playing video games. That's commonly the stigma, but I mean we are playing those video games in a team environment at a collegiate level in a safe environment with coaches and full-on staff. I mean we have access to all staff on campus like any other athletic member would. So you might think that's kind of weird. I remember my freshman year going into this, I had to go get a physical and people thought that was really funny that I had to get a physical for eSports, but I'm a student athlete so I have to have all the same medical procedures and questions answered before I can compete.

WW: So it is video games, but we are competing in an environment that is on campus. It's safe. We have coaches and staff and we are actively learning together. So it's not just video games. It's entirely that team aspect, just like any other sport has it as well.

JW: You know, I'm already learning a lot and I can't wait to hear more about e-sports and how it applies, but I first want to know, Logan, you've done this competitive gaming for a while now. Tell me about your involvement with the e-sports.

Logan Reimbold (LR): Um, so I started almost a year ago now and my first tournament was, it was at Ferris State and I went there and I lost. I did really bad. I thought I was going to do a lot better because every time you go into your first tournament, you expect that you're just going to do better than everyone else because that's just your assumption that everyone else is just playing the game for fun. But really a lot of the people there are playing the game because they enjoy learning about it and enjoy just figuring out all these like small things about the game because they just enjoy playing it.

JW: How does the competition work? What do you do?

LR: So, uh, the first thing that happens is you pick your character. Then after you pick characters, you pick the stage which can like vary like how like different moves will kill or like how combos will work. Uh, then you like play game one. The winner of that gets to ban stages and then the loser gets to pick stages off those bans. After that, you play game two. If the winner wins, then it's two out and if it's best of three, then that person would win the set. And you keep going until you lose and then you'd be put into loser’s bracket. And if you lose in loser’s bracket, you're out.

JW: Okay, and how many tournaments have you taken part in so far?


LR: Somewhere between like, 30 and 40 at this point. I’ve gone a lot, mostly for fun, and to hang out with people that I met there. So

JW: That sounds great. Ryan, I'd love for you to share with us how eSports is really helping to shape a new pathway for careers for students like Logan.

Ryan Graham (RG) Yeah, when you look at eSports, it's a 200 billion dollar industry. You look at its prevalence across the world. We're not talking something that's just local or in Michigan. We're talking worldwide opportunities to connect. And really there's an infrastructure within esports that needs HR, finance, broadcasting, marketing, all the traditional fields that you would have in other industries or sectors. And so really this opportunity to explain esports today is to help our parents understand it because you have a lot of young men and women that are entering esports, but maybe their parents don't understand it and how they can foster the growth in that area as well. So our goal at the ISD is to highlight the opportunities, career paths that are within esports in a positive nature and an informative nature so parents can support their young men and women that are participating in it.

JW: And Ryan, you and Will are partnering with other people here at Kent ISD on a really special event, a brand new initiative here. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

RG: Yeah, very excited to announce the inaugural Kent County Cup, right? It's March madness right now. We're holding this in April. But we really felt, and in teaming with Aquinas and teaming with some other partners here at the ISD, that we need to highlight this opportunity in this sector of eSports and this is a way to bring teammates and teams or individuals across the county right here to the ISD. We're partnering with Aquinas because they know how to run these events. Will knows as a director of eSports how to run these events. We're going to have prizes. We're going to have opportunities for parents to engage business and industry partners. We really want it to be an informative day, but also a competitive day, and just really highlight the opportunities within eSports.

JW: It's really a terrific opportunity, and again, a new event that's happening on April 27th. We're going to talk a little bit more about how students can get involved in that event, and parents too. But I want to go back to Will, and it's really that special that the three of you have a connection to Caledonia High. Can you tell us how you ended up meeting Ryan and where your career went from there?

WW: Yeah, so I actually met Ryan back when I was a middle schooler. He became the school's principal and I was already a pretty sociable kid. I liked meeting people and so when I saw this this nice gentleman standing in the hallways and I was like, oh that's our principal. I have to go up and shake his hand. And so that actually taught me a lot of the life skills of how to be personable when you meet someone. Because every day I would see Ryan and I'd go shake his hand and we'd talk for a few minutes and then I'd be late to class. Not his fault though. I would usually just walk slowly, but yeah, it's, it was just such an awesome time. And then, gosh, it might've been two years ago now, I want to say that I emailed the KCTC or, um, I think someone at the KCTC, I think there might've been a general mailbox that I sent it to. And then I finally saw Ryan's name on that listing. I go Ryan Graham! I know who that is. And so I immediately sent him an email and we had a Zoom call, I think the next week. And for me, you look the exact same. But the other way around, I remember you going, holy beard.

RG: Yeah, Will did not have a beard in sixth grade. haha

WW: No. And yeah, ever since then we got connected. We started connecting with other people in the Kent ISD, you know, Krista, Cody and Du. And this has just all taken off since then.

JW: Now you were a high school student interested in some IT programs, right? How did you end up going from high school to a career as the director of eSports?

WW: Yeah, so in high school I actually did all of our engineering design classes and then I was a part of the first coding class that Caledonia had offered at the high school level. With that, then I went to KCTC actually where I did the Information Technology for my first year. In my second year I did Mechatronics.

WW: So I'm sure we'll talk about it a little bit. Logan's a big fan of robotics here, and so I kind of followed a similar pathway, a little bit more focused on the IT portion and then into Mechatronics. But I graduated in 2017, then after that, I went to GRCC, you know, Grand Rapids Community College. I did it for the fall semester, and I just didn't have a good experience. I didn't like the environment. I didn't like how it was making me feel, and so after that fall, I actually dropped out. I started working for a call center. And I just kind of figured in 10 years, you know, I'll figure out life later and just kind of work through this, save up money and figure out what I want to do.

WW: It was then in 2019 fall, so it'd been two years now. And I actually had a friend from Caledonia, which I know Ryan knows Tommy Gale. Tommy Gale was a cheerleader at Aquinas college and he actually hit me up and he said, Hey, my school's doing an e-sports program and they're looking for volunteers to help Shoutcast. So announce the games, much like you have an announcer for football. They're looking for announcers for esports. And I was like, this is incredible. I've watched this for years. And so I went that fall and we did almost all the casts that we could together. And at the end of that fall, I started speaking with the head coach and he said, well, what's your, what do you know, what's your rank? What are your aspirations? What do you want to do? And I was like, Oh, I'm kind of lost right now. And he goes, well, what if I gave you an offer for next fall to come play with me?

WW: And so I started playing fall of 2020 and then we had a lot of coaching changes over the next two, three years. And then I got offered to be the eSports coordinator, which is a student position to help out. And then the year after that, going into this last August, they hired me on as the director.

JW: Well, congratulations!

WW: Thank you.

JW: That is a terrific journey. And you're in a position now to help students like Logan. And you mentioned, Logan, that you have a dream that centers around robotics, engineering. Tell us how what you're doing in eSports ties into your dreams.

LR: So, part of it is there are a lot of colleges that have eSports programs like Aquinas, but Michigan State currently has a really good team and they've brought in players from across the country that want to come and go to their school and play eSports. And they have an engineering program that I'm personally interested in, so that would help me be more attractive in their eyes. So that's part of it. Also, a lot of the people there in the same, I guess, have the same interests. So it's easy to talk to them. And I've learned that a lot of them know a lot about engineering, programming, all that stuff that I want to learn about. So it's an amazing environment to just learn about stuff like that too.

JW: How is what you're learning at school helping you along this journey?

LR: Well, with like e-sports or with engineering?

JW: Both.

LR: Well, in school, it's kind of just patience because if you've ever played any game like Smash Bros, patience is really important because if you're just running in always, you're going to bash your head against a wall and you're going to lose. And that's pretty true with life. You've got to think about what you're doing. But the same thing with school helping me with engineering. We've got, I think, engineering design I'm taking this semester. Freshman year, basically, I took every coding, robotics class that I could. All that's been really helpful in learning how to get ready for college, too.

JW: And the connection you've made with Will in the e-sports industry, tell me how that has helped you shape your dreams.

LR: So I actually met Will at one of, probably one of my first five tournaments. I went to Aquinas for their bi-weekly Grand Revival. Since then, I've been able to talk with him about anything esports-wise, whether it's like, hey, are there other tournaments that I could go to, or is there anything that I can get from this? And it's just an open environment because of how esports is, too.

JW: Those connections in West Michigan really run deep, and we can see that all of us are connected through education and through our interests. Ryan, tell us how, when you hear someone like Logan and Will talk about their journey, how does that help you, inform you with your work in workforce development?

RG: Yeah, from a workforce development side, you truly enjoy these types of stories because here's Logan working on what the path could look like as he, you know, kind of eyes Michigan State, and also uses esports as a vehicle to create awareness or even opportunity to have a scholarship. And I want to highlight that for our parents out there. These are full-ride or partial scholarships to pay for school. And so you can be an e-sports athlete along with obtaining your engineering degree, your business and marketing degrees as well. But when you look at these two gentlemen here and their paths and what they've done with their careers, e-sports has been a big part of that. So part of the workforce development side is helping parents understand that.

RG: Being a parent of someone Logan's age, right? I don't have this great depth of e-sports knowledge, but I know Will does. I trust him as a former student and now in education. I've been to these events. They're very well run. There's a really great culture around them, very supportive, very informative, very networking, if you will. I'm sure Logan knows many more young men and women across our county and beyond because of these events.

RG: So when you look at career paths, to your point, it's about networking, it's about resourcing to go, I have this idea of where I want to go, how can you help me maybe with some of your experiences and continue to grow that? And that gaming community is a really neat community. And I'm not just blowing smoke at it to be positive for this podcast. It's a really neat community that has come together. The games are very benign, if you will, Rocket League, Smash Bros. I think sometimes parents have a negative image of gaming as well. These are games that can be played at the middle school, high school, and college level that are very appropriate and very positive in nature at the end of the day. So just a really great set of career paths that could come out of this. It's a 200 billion, B, billion dollar industry. And these are opportunities that these athletes, eSports athletes, have the opportunity to obtain.

JW: It also proves that our career pathways are always growing. They're always evolving and changing. Will, this career probably didn't even exist when you were a middle school student with Ryan.

WW: Yeah, I don't think so. I think the closest thing that you would have found, because that would have been, gosh, 2012. I think the pro scene for a lot of these games was beginning. The one I got me, my start, is called League of Legends, and the pro scene was starting around then and so you may have had like a team manager or coach but no, there was no like collegiate esports director like I am in now.

JW: Right. So getting back to the tournament Logan you'll be taking part in this tournament tell me about that day and what you hope to achieve on April 27th.

LR: So not to be cocky, but I think I can definitely win. I don't have a great idea of like if there are any like high school students that are just like really good and I just don't know about them because it's very possible that there are students out there that do the high school league which I can't be a part of because Caledonia doesn't have a team that I know of. But there could be some kid that like just is really good and we wouldn't know without this tournament. Right now I think last season I was ranked 10th in West Michigan so I did pretty well at all the tournaments that I went to but I feel like it'd be great if other students would also go to tournaments like this or tournaments like Grand Revival which is at Aquinas so that they can just learn more about the game and have more fun. Honestly, I just want more people to come if anything.

WW: I want to say I brought two schools in who I've been in close contact with the last year who I think are going to give Logan a bit of run for his money. I say you look out for some Greenville people or no, Grandville people, and some Kelloggsville people.

LR: If Grandville beats me in robotics and esports, I'm not going to be happy.

JW: But a little competition is a good thing. And an opportunity for everyone to learn is also a good thing. Ryan, share with us how parents can even take part in this again.

RG: We definitely want parents to attend that day. For those not familiar with KCTC, we have an auditorium and some breakout rooms available. We're going to have presentations for parents to talk about career paths. We want parents to be able to come alongside their students like Logan and support them in a positive way, but in an informed way, right? Just being positive doesn't necessarily always have the information that you want with it. Here is Logan that's ready to win. We have a belt, we have a championship belt that we have on order for this event, but it's just such a great way for parents to be engaged, learn more about it, learn more about the industry, maybe learn some of the vernacular, the words, or just see an event. They might have sent their sons and daughters to these events, but have never been able to attend one. We really feel the venue is built for it. The event will take place in our commons. The outer ring of our commons allows guests and parents to be able to watch. We will have many representatives from company along with ourselves as ISD reps there to be able to talk and walk with parents along with guided sessions to talk about the career paths that are in esports.

JW: How do people find out more about this?

RG: Yeah, you can go to KentISD.org/Kent County Cup or just search Kent County Cup in your Google and you'll see the event for April 27th, 2024. It's a Smash Bros Esports. I want to make sure I'm saying that correctly for our esports friends because there are different games that are played.

RG: This event will be a Smash Bros event. It's open to 9th through 12th graders that think they can beat Logan. Right? Throw that gauntlet out there a little bit. $5 to play. Food, prizes, or more. We have three really high-end chairs that Steelcase has donated in the gaming realm. So we know a lot about those pieces. Limited to 128 players. So if you're interested, we know we've already had some strong enrollment but we know we want to reach that 128, and we know once we reach that, then we're going to cap it off. So those are ways that you can register and be a part of that day right here at the ISD.

JW: It sounds like it will be a lot of fun. Logan, we hope to see you wearing that belt.

LR: Yeah, so I know last year in my German class, I mentioned that I started doing e-sports, and I think there were like five kids in there that all said that they could beat me in Smash Bros. So, I know who you are, so I better see you here to prove to me that you weren't lying. So if you're not there, I'll just assume that you've lost.

JW: Logan, I want to ask you one more question. Why is it important for the adults in your life, whether it's educators or others, to ask you about your dreams?

LR: I feel like it's good for parents to know what their kids want to do. I hear so often that there are kids that want to do stuff and sometimes it conflicts with their parents' ideas of what they want to do. You kind of just have to have faith in your kids sometimes, too. I feel like some parents, and some parents don't always have that, which isn't super unfair because it's scary seeing your kid go out in the world.

JW: It is good to be encouraged. And Will and Ryan, can you share with us as educators why you think it's important for us to listen to students like Logan talk about their dreams.

RG: Yeah, I think it's extremely important, right? I have the blessing of sitting next to two Duncan middle school students in Caledonia, which means a lot to me as the former principal of Duncan Lake. I think it's important for parents to listen. I think it's important for parents to feel the stress of what Logan described. It is hard at times to let your students go or let them chase some of these dreams.

RG: I know Will's story, his father at first was like esports. Now having the director position, he's going esports! This is great. And that's a natural response to an industry that maybe we don't know much about. But this event, this allows parents to dive maybe in deeper with educators, fellow parents, fellow directors, students even that can highlight this. So eloquently said, Logan, about just parents feel the stress of making sure we're guiding our children in a positive direction. And sometimes we don't know about e-sports and here's an event that would be able to highlight that and give you access to information.

WW: Yeah, and to help kind of capitalize on that point, like I had no idea that I would end up in this position. You know, if you asked me back when I graduated Caledonia, I could not tell you that this would be my job right now. And to go on to what Ryan talked about earlier, my dad was always the kind of person that would say like, go outside, you know, play with your friends and all that. And he didn't really understand the whole kind of landscape of it all. You know, I was already in a voice call on my computer playing with, gosh, I think we have 30 people now in our friend group that we've kept from Caledonia since then, but we've stayed unified together through these online gaming events that we do. And so I took that as my, you know, that, that was my enjoyment. You know, I didn't have to drive 30 minutes to go see someone. I could play a game that we both already super much, you know, super enjoyed.


WW: And so I took that and my dad of course did not understand exactly what I told him when I said, I got an offer to play eSports at Aquinas College. He was super confused. He goes, so what does that mean? I go, well, I'll go play video games and they'll give me money for an education. And at first he was like, oh, you're kidding. You're lying, right? That's not a thing. And I was like, no, no, like I'll go there next fall and I will send you a link to a twitch.tv channel for Aquinas College eSports and you will hear them call my name out while I'm playing the game. And afterwards he texted me. He's like, I don't understand it, but it was super cool hearing your name be said on the internet like that. And it's kind of been that trend, but it was the slow idea of this can be something beneficial for me as a person. And now that I'm in this position, whenever I talk to my mom, she's like, I don't understand a lot of it, but I'm so proud of what you're doing and how you're going about it and what's going on in your life that I never could have, I couldn't have asked for a better start to life for my son.

JW: Wonderful words from your parents. Logan, can you share with us how you think you'll know when your dream actually comes true?

LR: Honestly, with my life right now, I feel like as long as I'm happy with like what I'm doing, if I think I'm doing my best, I feel like I'll be good. What I really want to do with esports now, it feels like, because I just see so few high schoolers at tournaments that I go to, I want more high schoolers to go because I was talking with one of the people that I met there and I'm like, there's only like one or two other high schoolers at this event. And like, you know, it makes me like sometimes afraid for like how the game's going to grow. But then I saw like, I think like 33 people signed up at one point and I was like thinking, well, if any of these people enjoy it, they might go to another tournament, then they might enjoy it and might keep that alive with them.

JW: We're very much looking forward to this tournament again, which is happening April 27th. A lot more information is available on the Kent ISD website by searching Kent County Cup. And I'd love to thank all of you for joining us and enlightening us about eSports today. Thank you for being here.

RG: You're welcome.

WW: Thank you so much.

LR: Yeah, of course. You bet.

JW: And good luck to you, Logan.

LR: Thank you.

JW: I'd like to also thank everyone who's listening today. If you know a student of any age who dreams big, we would love to share their story. You can share ideas and hear more dream stories at KentISD.org/YourDream. The Your Dream is Our Dream podcast is presented by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU.


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