How Cxmmunity is promoting opportunities for Black students in esports

by Robin Mosley

Cxmmunity (pronounced community) is a nonprofit organization committed to increasing minority participation in esports through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) development. Nerd Street recently spoke with founder and CEO Ryan Johnson and co-founder and CMO Chris Peay to learn more about how Cxmmunity got started, what the org has done to improve Black visibility in esports, the org’s reception and where they see the future of esports for Black players and Cxmmunity.

With esports growing larger each year, it’s a priority for Cxmmunity that schools, both K-12 and college level, get in on the esports hype, especially those focused on improving and exposing Black players to gaming/esports spaces that many others have access to from the start. Both Johnson and Peay are dedicated to getting money into the hands of Black students early on and helping them understand how they can contribute and make it in this industry.

Nerd Street: How did Cxmmunity get started and why?

Ryan Johnson: In the summer of 2019, I had literally just left corporate America and was kind of just floating around trying to find my way. And in that process, we began to meet with the Atlanta public school departments athletic directors for the entire district. The State of Georgia is really unique in the sense that they actually offer esports at the high school level as a statewide sport. So by chance the inner city schools had difficulties getting the funding or financial support to actually create the esports programs to have their students participate in the statewide league.

Read more: How Gamer Glam is making esports and gaming more inclusive

And so between summer 2019 and January 2020, we began to brainstorm on exactly what we could do to help solve this problem because we figured if it was happening in Atlanta, it was probably happening throughout North America, especially in low income areas, and also in the HBCU community. We were doing research and found that nearly 80% of African American teams play video games on a weekly basis, but only 2% of the current video game work/video game developing workforce identifies as African American.

So our goal is to help the consumer become the creator.

Nerd Street: What has Cxmmunity done to ensure that Black esports players or gamers can navigate esports effectively?

Johnson: Our main product is our career-readiness program. And basically what that is, is a one-hour aftercare program where we're actually partnering with low income schools or charter schools, providing free access to top video game industry leaders in actually teaching them about the careers of the day. Our career-readiness program is one way that we ensure exposure, but our flagship product is our HBCU Esports League. And all of that platform is how we can guarantee there are African American students of color [competing], but also showcased on a very big stage. Through our partnership with Twitch, all tweets and broadcasts of our second season are going to be on the front page of Twitch.

Chris Peay: In terms of exposure, we work a lot with our corporate partners to get the funding to then support the community which is underserved. And so we've partnered recently with Space Jam, so that was Warner Bros. and Xbox. We gifted 50 HBCUs with the Xbox Series X kit, and we also did a Xbox tournament. And we were one of the first ones to actually do a physical tournament for Space Jam, the game that then led to eight HBCU students competing head to head.

I'll say the second biggest [partnership] we did is with Verizon. Verizon committed $1 million to Cxmmunity and HBCU Esports League. And 50% of that will build out five esports labs at our participating HBCU campuses that participate within the league. And we're also gifting five women a $20,000 scholarship for studying STEM.

Photo credit: Cxmmunity

Nerd Street: What's been the reception between students and your partners?

Johnson: At the partner level, a lot of corporate brands, in the last year, [have a] huge focus on social justice, especially around economic mobility and education. So a lot of our partners are really happy with us because we have been able to execute a lot of their HBCU strategies. The Microsofts and the Comcasts of the world are very pleased with our work.

Chris Peay: We really take pride in the fact that we were able to grow these programs because me and Ryan are both HBCU alum. And so we were able to work backwards with starting with the students. We started the league, students are competing, they're winning scholarship prize pools, they're winning trips throughout the league. And then now we're able to get more buy-in from students from like conference offices, from like faculty and staff.

Nerd Street: Where do you see the future of esports going for Black players? And where do you see the future of esports going for Cxmmunity?

Ryan Johnson: I want to see esports have the same emotional impact as AAU basketball or like Pop Warner football and create programs for students that may not be necessarily athletic but still have potential. I want to get to a point where we have literally leagues that feed into high school teams that then feed into our collegiate league at HBCUs. So our whole plan is to establish a pipeline that takes students K-12, and educates and exposes them to careers within gaming and STEM. The [students] who are talented enough, we can place them on pro teams, and then the [students] who are more academic, we're able to help them get full-time job opportunities through some of our corporate partners and our team partners.

Lead image credit: Cxmmunity

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