In just a year, Adam Antor has become a mainstay in the Michigan esports scene. Starting as a photographer for events, Adam quickly built out an esports program for West Catholic High, coaching his team to become one of the best in the country. Now he’s taking his skills to Aquinas, bringing another college to the esports scene and building out their program to be the best in the nation.
We had a chance to talk with Adam about his work both as a coach and a photographer, and how it has taken him around the country to some of the biggest esports events around. Have a gander!
How was Dreamhack? Good times?
Dreamhack was awesome. It was great. I had a ton of fun. It was my first Dreamhack and it was awesome.
What were the standout matches for you?
I loved the CSGO finals. That was fun. Watching Liquid win on home soil was sweet. It was my first time ever seeing a Rocket League match, that was pretty cool to watch. Like a high-level professional Rocket League match.
But most of the time I was serving on the official content team. I was taking photos for Dreamhack so a lot of my time was just actually working. It was a crazy environment. It was awesome.
It looked so cool.
What first got you into esports?
That’s an interesting question because there wasn’t like a moment in time where I was like, “Alright, this is esports!” as opposed to just playing in a basement. But for gaming, I really got into it in high school. I used to have friends over and we’d have Madden tournaments in my basement, which was a lot of fun. Eventually, we started playing Call of Duty and Halo pretty late at night.
Then in college, at Truman State in Missouri, I was the president of a gaming club on campus and we formed a League of Legends league. We drafted out teams and had a semester-long tournament.
It was really cool. That’s when I first started playing League of Legends, back in 2009 or 2010. Then I started watching League of Legends pros after that. My fascination with esports was just watching from a distance for a while. Then a couple of years passed and I started researching more and seeing what was around.
I was living in St. Louis at the time, and I reached out to Maryville University, who had just launched their esports program. I got to go hang out in their space. Then I moved to Michigan and started a job at a high school over in Grand Rapids (West Catholic). About a year into that, I met some students who played Counter-Stike and watched Counter-Strike and I thought “We might not be able to play Counter-Strike, but let’s play Rocket League against other schools”.
We found a league and started a team. We practiced from home. Competed from home. It just kinda grew from there. We finished fourth in the country out of high schools.
Yeah. That was last summer. We expanded to Counter-Strike and Fortnite and tried our hand at League of Legends. Then this past March I accepted a role as a full-time head coach at Aquinas in Grand Rapids.
What’s your goal with Aquinas? What are you looking to build out there?
I haven’t had a ton of time to think of a huge vision. Right now, I’ve been focusing on recruiting some talented students, some of which I coached at West Catholic.
What I see as our mark, I guess is, is taking what other colleges are doing right and putting it into one program. So Maryville does a really good job of recruiting students and finding talent, while this school over here does a really good job at content, and this school does a really good job at this, and we’re just gonna grab the best things from each school, bring it together and really establish a powerhouse of esports at Grand Rapids.
I think content is a big part of collegiate esports that is missing. I don’t think enough content is being created at the college level. I think we’re really going to own that space. I’m really excited about that.
Now that you’re at the collegiate level and you’re putting together your team, what do you look for in a player?
Starting so late in the game, it’s been difficult to start the recruiting process. The biggest struggle we have in terms of recruiting is identifying talent. Unlike other sports, there’s not high school teams aplenty. So a lot of the struggle right now is finding students who are, one, interested, but two, talented. If you look at the high school programs that are already around the state, look at West Catholic, East Kentwood, Pickney, Detroit Jesuit… all their seniors have been offered multiple scholarships to go play at various colleges.
We have a ton of spots on our roster, but we don’t know how to identify the talent that’s out there. So if you look at a big school like Brighton, Brighton doesn’t have an esports team. They have over two thousand students, and I know for a fact there’s talent there – really high talent. There’s really high talent at every school. But if there’s not a club or a team, we as college coaches don’t know how to find them. So that’s been the struggle right now.
Most colleges have scouts for baseball or football to go to high schools and find the talent. Is that not there for esports yet?
It’s not so much not having scouts, it’s more that there are not players who are publically known. Like, how would you find a top tier Overwatch player at a school that doesn’t have an Overwatch team? You can’t, unless they come to us or if they’re on traditional sports recruiting websites like BeRecruited or NCSA. So if you’re to a top-level football player and you want to be recruited, you’re going to make profiles on these sites, and those sites have created esports sections to them.
Quite a few of my recruits have come from those websites, but the talent pools on them are just so small right now because it’s not known among high school esports competitors. Those players on those sites are hit up every day by various colleges around the country looking to offer them scholarships.
But I guess what I look for in a player is talent and academics. Gotta keep the GPA up above the requirement. Another important part is the ability to play on a team. Knowing the sacrifice it takes to put in the time and to work with others, even though you all may not have the same opinion I think is a really important part of being on a team.
On the opposite side, as a coach what advice do you have for future coaches?
First and foremost, find opportunities where you can learn the skill of coaching. If it’s in esports or not, just start coaching something. Most esports coaches are always open to volunteer coaches, and I recommend volunteering your time somewhere. If you’re close to the high school you went to or you know people at a high school, reach out and see if they’re looking to make an esports program and offer your time to help get that off the ground.
A lot of high schools are looking to get into esports, but they don’t know how to start. So if you have esports experience and you want to learn or get into coaching esports, getting into the high school scene right now would be amazing and a great opportunity to get esports coaching experience.
And with Aquinas, you’ll be starting that in the fall?
Yeah. This summer, we’re building out our competitive esports space. I hate using the term “lab” cause that sounds like a boring computer lab, but there’s not really a better… it’s not an arena. Someone needs to come up with a better name than “lab” but not as intense as “arena”. I keep calling it a competitive space, but that’s pretty boring.
We’re building that out. Twenty-five computers and really cool wall graphics and stuff like that. It’ll be where we practice and compete. That’s my summer project, and then we’ll jump into competition next fall.
Which games are you focusing on right now?
League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League are our main three. I’m trying to find players and fill out rosters in Super Smash Brothers, NBA2k, and NHL.
With NHL, I have players who are interested, but there are rumblings that the NHL might create some type of league next year, and the players I’m talking to would be drafted into said league if they do that. So we’re waiting on an official announcement of if that’s happening or not.
It’s fascinating to think about the small schools in Michigan. Like, when we’re building out an NBA2k league, we’re building it out with players that are trying to get into the 2k draft. And to think that Aquinas might have an esports player drafted into the NBA2k league and go professional after a year or two just boggles the mind of my athletic director. Nothing would make me happier than something like that.
That would be a great start. It would get you on the map.
It would. And what’s cool about the 2k league is that most of the players in it and most of the players being drafted are between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-nine. So it’s a perfect opportunity for other players to go to college, refine their 2k skills, and still have an opportunity to go pro after, whereas a lot of other esports teams are made up of players right around the college age.
And Aquinas is offering esports scholarships?
Yeah! Our scholarships range between $4000 and $10,000 a year for esports, which is on the very high-end compared to other schools around the country. Aquinas is one hundred percent behind this. They want to see it grow, and they want to do it right.
On a larger scale, Michigan has been rising up in esports. We have the League of Legends Championships coming in August
I’m so excited for that! I went to the Spring Finals in St. Louis because I was like, “this is one of the closest things I’m ever gonna get to League of Legends”
And now it’s right in your backyard
And now it’s right in the backyard! It’s so cool. I’ll definitely be there.
Who are you going to be rooting for?
I don’t know. Probably not TSM. I rooted for Liquid in the Spring Finals. We’ll see who makes it.
It’s cool that they’re adding the third-place game back. Having a two-day event is going to bring a lot of attention to the city and a lot of people into hotel rooms. It’s bringing money into the Detroit economy, which is always a positive.
What else do you see in the Michigan scene that excites you these days?
I think the Michigan Smash scene is always exciting. There’s a ton of Super Smash talent and the tournament organizers are really getting behind Michigan Smash. There’s a really vibrant community here for that, which is awesome.
I think another part is hearing all the colleges that are looking into esports or looking to pursue it further. The five that are currently in NACE, who have varsity programs that are giving scholarships are not going to be the only five by the end of the next school year.
Talking with the West Michigan Sports Commission, they are heavily involved with researching what esports is about and looking into how they can get into it. The Pistons having a gaming team is amazing. The Red Wings event GamerSaloon and High Score helped put on was exciting, and hearing that the NHL may go further into that is really amazing.
It’s really awesome thinking about the opportunities in esports that are coming into Michigan in just the last year and going forward into the next year or two.
And also events like Gamers for Giving happening here
Yeah, I love Gamers for Giving. They do a fantastic job and it’s such a huge event. We need to help spread the word that that’s happening in the state of Michigan. I think there’s a lack of knowledge that people in Michigan know that’s happening here. We can do better work with that, but it’s such a great event.
You mentioned you were at Dreamhack as a part of the content team. As a photographer, do you see a crossover in skills between photography and esports?
I don’t think there’s much crossover. I don’t put a ton of pride in my photography.
No? You’re really good
Thanks. I picked up photography at the last job to start getting some photos. I was the marketing director at West Catholic, and I got a nice camera because I had the budget to do so, and I just started taking photos. Then I figured, “I can use my photography to get into esports events for free”! About a year and a half ago, that’s what I started doing. Maybe even just a year ago.
I just started showing up to events with a camera, and that evolved into being asked to come to events with my camera.
That’s impressive. That’s amazing
It’s been fun. It’s brought me to the Call of Duty World Championships, it got me to Gamers for Giving, it’s brought me to Dreamhack Dallas. I went to Vegas for a Call of Duty event. A Fortnite event in St. Louis. A FIFA event in Nashville. That’s all just been in the last year.
That camera was a smart purchase!
I guess so! But I think the most valuable piece I get out of my photography is the networking that I’ve been able to do with it. The people it’s brought me in contact with and being behind the scenes at some of these events, I’ve met some of the coolest and most influential people in esports.
I mean, that one camera got me on the bench of the Detroit Red Wings! That’s amazing. I’ve met some of the greatest casters in esports, and that’s all been because I grabbed a camera. My first event was in St. Louis last summer. I drove down for a small Fortnite event and started taking photos.
It’s been an amazing tool to learn about esports and to meet a ton of people.
With everything you have going on, do you have time for casual gaming these days?
Oh yeah. I’ll always make time to game.
What are you playing these days?
The last couple of days, I’ve been jumping back into Minecraft. I play a lot of single player Minecraft while I watch Netflix because I don’t have to be totally involved in the game, so I can casually play while I watch Netflix. But when my friends are online, I’ve been jumping on League of Legends lately, Playing a lot of League.
I play a little bit of Counter-Strike as well. Those are the titles right now. It’ll change in the fall when I play with the teams in the esports program.
Is your wife a gamer as well? Do you game together?
She is not a gamer at all. She is a workhorse. She is always working. She makes enough money so that I can be an esports coach.
It’s always good to have somebody backing you up on your goals.
Oh yeah, she’s been super supportive. She loves the photography stuff. She likes whenever I can take the camera out and get photos of her running.
She just did a triathlon, right?
She did a half Ironman, and I’m her personal professional photographer for those events.
She made it look easy! Every picture she’s smiling.
She’s been training every day for the last couple of months. She felt pretty good after the race and she signed up for the next one. She’s doing a full Ironman in November.
If you would like more information on the Aquinas Esports Program, Adam is more than happy to help you out! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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