VSxmmunit is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that started in February 2020 with the mission “to increase minority representation within the esports and video game industries.” The collective founded by HBCU graduates Ryan Johnson and Chris Peay has become the premier gaming league among the HBCU community. However, this push for representation also means bringing more minorities into these spaces as creators.
So, last year, Cxmmunity partnered with Microsoft to provide more than 50 HBCUs nationwide with their Xbox kits to build their own gaming labs. Verizon even promised HBCUs $1 million. with the creation of the Verizon Game Forward Fellowship, whose mission is “to increase female representation in the gaming industry and strengthen opportunities and presence in STEM careers.”
Read what Chris Peay, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Cxmmunity, shared with CASSIUSLife about the organization and what the next five years hold for the growing community of minority gamers, tech enthusiasts and developers.
CASSIUSLife: What are some of the things that led to the creation of Cxmmunity?
Chris Pey: Early, [we realized] that 83% of African-American millennials play video games daily. But then you look at the spectrum of people who work in the video game space, especially developers, [and] only about 2% to 3% of African Americans make up this space.
It’s one of those things where, when you think of titles like Grand Theft Auto, madand NBA 2K, we are always the consumer and almost never the real beneficiary. So we really wanted to start [casting] a wide net when it comes to ensuring that we can hire young minority students in the esports and video game industries.
So we started to break up a community, in a sense, to break down the various systemic barriers that exist beyond the tech industry. But then, using the game as a tool to engage students, we teach them different digital literacy skills from there.
CASSIUSLife: Can you tell us about some of the core values and areas that make up Cxmmunity?
Chris Pey: Today we operate on three pillars: Esports, Education and Entertainment.
[When it comes to] Esports and Gaming, we own and operate the largest Black on Esports property to date on Twitch, and that’s [with] the HBCUs. I myself am a graduate of an HBCU, North Carolina Central University. My co-founder Ryan [Johnson], graduated from Oakwood University, which is an HBCU in Huntsville, Alabama. And so basically [we’re] starting with what we would like to have in school. It is therefore the first competitive esports league of its kind specifically aimed at historically black colleges and universities.
When we started, there was a school that had an Esports program (Morehouse College), and they competed nationally. But now that we’re about two years away, we’re able to unlock over 36 Esports programs at these schools with the ultimate goal of unlocking an additional revenue stream for HBCUs in general that they might not have known about. existence in the past. And so, of course, when you put that on the spectrum of historically black colleges from HBCUs to predominantly white PWI institutions, I’d say there’s about a 70% difference in Esports programs. Our goal there is literally to grow an HBCU Esports club or official team squad on every campus. So that’s kind of what we’re doing now, it’s just being able to evolve.
But ultimately we work with Twitch, [who functions] as our reference agency, to launch this league. And so we just had the chance to be able to create this property. But it is also sponsored by Verizon. It is sponsored by Discover, sponsored by Nike House of Hoops. We were able to work with Warner Brothers and Space Jam, where we flew eight HBCU students here to Atlanta to participate in the Space Jam: A New Legacy video game tournament. The two finalists had the chance to fly to Los Angeles with us to attend the world premiere of Space Jam: A New Legacy film. So these students are now on the red carpet with people like LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Anthony Davis, all the people they look up to.
And so just being able to provide access to HBCU and underrepresented underrepresented students, first of all. But again, like I said, just making sure we’re still focused on teaching different digital literacy skills and then making sure they realize that those opportunities exist and that ‘they can then be hired in this industry by moving on to our next one is education. So we are running right now in the Esports Career Readiness Program. These range from once a month [where] we can do pop-up STEM camps. Then we also have a nine-week program where we work with students. Our current one is now with Comcast and the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia.
And so [at a] at a very high level, they receive a bit of a course: encoding, event management, event organization, corporate marketing, all new. This is an additional career preparation program that we run. And then we also have Comcast Atlanta. And those are kind of like our two current education programs that we run today.
CASSIUSLife: What have you noticed as the main barriers to entry for color gamers and developers?
Chris Pey: So one of the biggest barriers to entry starts with the community, the biggest barrier to entry when it comes to professional gaming is console versus PC. So, of course, growing up as a young African American male, to speak for myself, it’s very rare that we have a home computer, let alone one that we can play video games on. Right? So if we had a computer, it’s probably [used a] remote access [modem], where you couldn’t necessarily be on the computer and home phone at the same time. And it also didn’t move as quickly or efficiently for you to play titles like League of Legendswhich are among the most respected titles when it comes to esports.
But what we had were consoles. So we can have a PlayStation One PS2 or an Xbox where we can play titles. But these are mostly sports titles. So maybe we play mad, NBA2K or something like a Fight Night, for example. It’s not necessarily the games that are like, if you want to be a pro gamer, you have to know this thing that’s kind of like one of the biggest barriers to entry that we kind of wanted to understand, realize, then just give access.
So I would say that access is the biggest barrier to entry. But something we’re doing to change is building esports labs and innovation labs on the campuses we work with. We started League 2020, and the following year we had worked with a few different brands, especially Red Bull, to unlock funds within their foundation and then set up an Esports Lab.
And now we are building real computer labs where students can compete. They have a place to go after forming their new Esports club.
CASSIUSLife: Esports is generally considered a male-dominated space. But what is Cxmmunity doing to address the concerns of gamers and tech enthusiasts?
Chris Pey: So the biggest response we’re getting specifically from a lot of our video game developers is that they mostly want to focus on black women. I will say they want to focus on women, of course, but then dig a little deeper, and [with] women being underrepresented, you cannot leave out the black woman. And I will say the response has been tremendous.
Verizon is really pushing to support women who study STEM. They’re looking to create some sort of pipeline, and that’s what we’re doing as well. We had the chance to work with [multiple] brands, but also blessed in the sense that we are also able to refuse agreements with brands. If it doesn’t come with some sort of tangible good that directly impacts students, [like] portfolio opportunity, job, internship opportunity, scholarship opportunity? We were able to refuse these things. And I will say that we think we’ve done it probably two or three times so far.
But for the most part, many of the partner companies we work with help fuel our mission and help achieve this goal. To date, we have been able to work with companies such as NBA2K as pipeline partners, where they are looking for 24 HBCU students to come to Nevada and California this summer. They will pay for their travel, accommodation and to work for a period of twelve weeks as interns at Take-Two Interactive.
And it’s the first time it’s been done, since the HBCU Sports League. Now we can work with black women who play in the game, like Ms. Tony Ligands from NBA2K.
CASSIUSLife: In 2005, about 2% of video game developers identified as black. More than a decade and a half later, that number has only doubled to 4%. What do you think the industry will look like in five years? And what else will Cxmmunity do to impact that number?
Chris Pey: I think Cxmmunity has done a great job of carving out our path in helping young people and direct consumers realize that basically anything they can imagine is at their fingertips. I think the brands that will win in the future are the brands that connect with people on an emotional level. Gone are the days when all you can do is slap a logo and it actually works.
I think now it’s mostly about how you impact me as an individual in the world that matters to me. And I think that’s where Cxmmunity has been able to carve out a niche, where brands now look at us like, “Hey, that’s what we want to do, [and] we realize we’re not doing it right based on the story you’re telling.
Because I would say the gaming industry is probably one of the last industries that hasn’t gone into decline since its inception. But he also realizes now that diversity is a thing, that toxic environments are no longer doable or achievable, and people are going to start speaking out and speaking out about those things.
Ask them to join our Discord. Follow us on social networks, of course, on Cxmmunity.co. And just tap then join our Discord. I would say, honestly, often we end up with more opportunities than we have students. And so just that said, there are things like scholarships that may not be in demand. There is also [opportunities] like NBA2K trying to get 24 HBCU trainees right? There are a ton of these opportunities out there.