Woman Collegiate eSports Coach Talks Industry​

Published by Fiifi Frimpong on

Woman Collegiate eSports Coach Talks Industry

On her road to becoming the first woman head coach for a varsity esports program in Texas, Kaitlin Teniente credits her success to good fortune and active networking. But becoming a successful esports coach and maintaining that status requires specific, behind-the-scenes skills that viewers do not typically see. 

Teniente said her hiring at St. Mary’s University is her second experience as a coach. Her first taste at the gig came as a team manager for two League of Legends club squads in 2017 while studying for her Digital Communications degree at The University of Texas at San Antonio. 

Kaitlin Teniente holding the Dota 2 championship trophy at Atlantic City in 2019.
Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Teniente

She said being able to give and take constructive feedback, tailoring messages to different audiences and being able to have tough conversations with team members are skills to possess as an esports coach. Teniente also said enrolling in writing courses helped her translate messages to her team. 

“I have been asked before ‘what degree is great if you want to get into esports?’ and honestly it depends what you want to do, but I think honestly at the end of the day everyone should take either a technical writing or professional writing class so you can present your ideas to more than just players,” Teniente said. 

Before being hired as St. Mary University’s inaugural esports coach in March, Teniente was introduced to esports seven years ago as a 19-year-old joining the campus esports club at The University of Texas at San Antonio. She sought after the club to find other students that played League of Legends, a team-based strategy game where two teams battle to destroy the other’s base. Teniente and her friend began creating tournaments and events for the school community, which produced a positive response throughout the community. 

Teniente signed her first contract job after college with Super League Gaming, an amaeutur eSports platform, in 2017. She worked her way from an event coordinator to a regional squad coordinator in two years, learning event skills, how to run a full production and being an advocate for team leaders along the way. 

From Oct. 2019 to June 2020, Teniente was the tournament administrator at Collegiate StarLeague, one of the largest collegiate gaming leagues, where she resolved conflicts as games were happening and communicated reports to team members. She describes winning the Dota 2 championship, a strategy-based game like League of Legends, at Atlantic City in 2019 as one of her shining moments in her career.   


What Skills Are Needed To Be An Esports Coach

Esports coaches do more than stand behind their players shouting out tactics during tournaments. Tournament viewers often judge a team’s performance solely based on the athletes making plays on the monitor. 

All esports coaches, like Teniente, spend hours each day studying different games and opponents. She added that it’s important to not cram information, which helps keep a positive attitude while preparing for opponents. 

“A lot of my day to day is dedicated to research,” she said. “Research about Texas schools, North American schools and it’s not just one game.”     

She acknowledges that having great people skills with athletes are essential for the success of an esports coach. 

“Giving and receiving constructive criticism to players is valuable,” Teniente said. She also said using that skill allows her to specifically relay information to players on why they are great in some aspects and where improvement is needed. 

Tailoring her program’s messages to the athletic department, administration and parents is an important aspect of being an esports coach too, she added. Keeping those three parties updated on complexities of the game and specific changes in-game can be more difficult than relaying messages to players.  

Teniente said an essential part of the job is sitting down and having tough conversations with players about not making the cut for a team or having to tell an entire group of students that their team will not compete in an upcoming tournament

“More often than not. We have the conversation that we cannot run a specific game,” Teniente said.

She also said sometimes the decision has nothing to do with the player’s inability to perform. For example, Apex Legends, a multiplayer online battle royale shooting game, does not garner enough student-athletes to compete competitively. So Teniente said it is a disservice to her students to field a team for Apex Legends to participate in noncompetitive scrimmages most of the time, due to a lack of interest, rather than compete competitively.

Kaitlin Teniente speaking on a panel at Dreamhack Atlanta in 2019 | Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Teniente
Being A Woman Esports Coach

Along with her skills that she feels are essential to running a successful esports program, Teniente wants her program and the whole industry to be totally inclusive. Regardless of a person’s preference or gender identity, Teniente sees gaming as an open space for everyone. 

One solution that Teniente thinks could get more inclusion in the industry is to have more people that look like her at the forefront. Having Teniente and Carolina Fabela, an assistant coach at the program, provides visibility. Both coaches are women and hispanic, two demographics that are underrepresented at their positions and as esports athletes.

“Visibility helps,” Teniente said. “So having myself and my assistant coach Carolina very visible for the students encourages more women to try out for the team. I definitely think it encourages more Hispanics to try out for the team.”

Teniente likened this visibility to the scully effect, a phenomenon that showed an influx of women pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers because of the female representation from Dr. Dana Scully in the show “The X-files.”

In Georgia, two universities participate in the National Association of Collegiate Esports – Georgia Southern University and Georgia State University. 

Atlanta Faze is an American professional Call of Duty League Esports team based in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta Reign is another American professional team based in Atlanta that participates in the Overwatch League. 

Both professional teams have rosters that are all men. Both the team’s head and assistant coaches are men also.

Teniente doubled down on her statements about the need for inclusion in the industry, but acknowledges that not every esports team is completely welcoming to women. 

“The industry has a lot of room to grow in terms of being more welcoming to women and being able to weed out predators or people who are problematic and should not be in positions of power,” Teniente said. “I want women to feel welcome. But at the same time I know not every company or organization is going to be ahead of the curve. There is a lot of progress to get us there.”

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Fiifi Frimpong

Fiifi Frimpong is a 23-year-old graduate student at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in New York City. He is a multimedia journalist and hopes to specialize his work covering sports teams in America. He is usually searching for food recipes to prepare a meal, but always ends up ordering takeout from his favorite Mexican restaurant. In his free time, Frimpong enjoys attending New York Yankee games and hip-hop concerts.


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