Esports certification is not a bad idea, ECI just did it badly

This week the Esports Certification Institute launched, hoping to provide a way to certify that a job candidate had the knowledge and skillset to work in an emerging industry. In theory, it provides verification for a set of traits that are otherwise hard to prove in a job application setting. In practice, it looked like a pointless worksheet that you pay for to get a shot at applying for a job.

There were plenty of critics and memes about this news, even forcing ECI to go back to the drawing board. However, there is an argument to be made about the need of such a certification tool, just not as blatantly money grabby as it was done here.

The Esports Certification Institute project and where it failed

The Esports Certification Institute originally launched with quite a strong promise and idea. It was also backed by some major figures established in the esports industry. The certification was simply proof of a passed exam or qualification. People can take the exam, receive their certification, and then use that as proof of expertise when searching out jobs.

A paywall, presumably sat somewhere between an expensive formal education and actually being able to get an entry level job. Pretty quickly, the community completely turned on this bizarre exam. This widely mocked program might have been one of the biggest esports industry news pieces in a while.  The certificate has been shut down just days after launch, with the team going back for a rethink. The exam is only for those looking at traditional business roles within organizations though, not for anyone particularly involved in the games side which was the first miscommunication.

Although, what exactly makes this scheme necessary for traditional business jobs hasn’t been explained. There are actually some much bigger issues surrounding the proliferation of traditional business into esports, that this scheme ignored entirely. The scheme carried a hefty entry fee of $400. That’s to sit an exam, which was just 120 multiple choice questions, followed by a basic essay question. Most of these don’t exactly indicate an in-depth testing of an applicant’s knowledge.

While there are loads of memorable pages, most of it just came down to basic maths.

Defenders of the Esports certification institute have pointed out that the certification does actually go beyond this questionnaire. Those who enroll will have access to ‘networking opportunities’, ‘career advancing resources’, and the opportunity to speak with the advisors. All of that is difficult to actually measure in terms of effectiveness though. What’s kind of weird about all this, is that the apparent goal was to make esports hiring more open and inclusive. Which is pretty much the opposite of creating a private paid-for club where you get special advisors and networking.

However, the Esports Certification Institute does address an actual problem though, even if their solution was pretty far from that problem. The overall goal to make hiring more transparent and inclusive is hard to disagree with, but the institute has hardly handled things well.

The original goal of this scheme was to make things more open and inclusive. That’s a fine goal, which could end up justifying the continued existence of the esports certification institute. Although, it really just feels like another roadblock. One good idea behind the scheme was to try and eliminate the pretty common nepotism that exists in esports. The tendency to just hire somebody you know, since it is difficult to find applicants with the right skills.

This certification won’t solve that problem though. Instead, it takes some helpful resources like networking and advisors, then puts it behind a payroll. Rather than relying on informal industry links, applicants now literally need to have a paid-for certificate to show off that they have those industry links. This isn’t going to make esports hiring more inclusive, it’s just a protection racket to reinforce the already dodgy hiring practises at esports orgs.
The certification has language pointing in the right direction, but it is just lip service. What is the point in establishing scholarships to allow those from a lower income to take this scheme, if the alternative is to just not have a scheme and not lock anyone out of the application process?

Without the scheme, the barrier to entry wouldn’t exist. The only problem the Esports certification institute is attempting to solve, is the one their creating. Of course along the way they’re gaining plenty of cash for salaries and high running costs to solve their own problems. Claiming that the certification is a positive since it provides scholarships is pretty self-defeating, since the scholarships wouldn’t be needed if it didn’t exist in the first place.

The institution has shut down its exam after about a day’s worth of backlash. Clearly, they weren’t expecting the complete outpouring of criticism and mocking their scheme. The institute isn’t shutting up shop though, they’re going back to the drawing board. The general ambitions of the project were to highlight meritocracy and inclusion for esports.

The need for Esports certification

Now anyone sourcing esports qualified talent (EsportsDotNet included), does need a way to source the adequate cadre. While a certification is not needed for positions, where there are less then  20 applicants and you can manually sift through the cover letters or templates, there is need to discriminate and eliminate applicants based on given metrics.

This is especially true in large esports companies that have thousands of applicants for a given role (think Riot, Blizzard, ESL). Having a valid way to certify that the applicant has adequate knowledge of specific esports and role terminology, industry know-how and general knowledge is invaluable. However, such certification either has to be very niche and role specific or very general and only scraping for surface level understanding.

If its the former, then a hefty prize for a very specific certificate, saying you are adequately versed in Esports Production or Esports Shoutcasting or even Esports Betting could be charged. If its the latter however, and you are only tested on math or knowing what the terminology is, there is hardly any value to be gained and the price should be close to zero.

Which leads us to the conclusion.

Yes, esports certification is good idea if its niche and very specific to a role/industry position. If the idea is to just money grab by printing a certificate for 400$, you will get bamboozled on social media.

Lessons hopefully learned.