Representation isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a way of ensuring that individuals see themselves reflected in everyday life, especially those from marginalized communities. That’s exactly what Cxmmunity, a nonprofit organization intent on diversifying the gaming and esports industry, is doing.
Led by founder and CEO Ryan Johnson, Cxmmunity partnered with Verizon for its second annual HBCU Esports League Verizon Celebrity Pro-Am last month, during which students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities came together for a Fortnite tournament alongside a host of celebrities who are also avid gamers. Live-streamed on Twitch, the virtual event also featured the likes of T-Pain, Brett Gray, Tarik Cohen, and more.
For(bes) The Culture caught up with Johnson to discuss the HBCU Esports League Verizon Celebrity Pro-Am, centering diverse voices in the gaming industry and ways Cxmmunity is leading the conversation on opening doors for marginalized voices.
For(bes) The Culture: As the founder and CEO of Cxmmunity, why was it important for you to team up with Verizon for the HBCU Esports League Verizon Celebrity Pro-Am?
Ryan Johnson: Every Spring, we do this Verizon Pro-Am to really amplify the fact that Verizon is in support of HBCUs. It’s also a great way for us to bring in talent, as far as influencers, musicians, professional athletes, to actually compete and play alongside HBCU students to continue raising awareness around these types of minority initiatives within esports and technology at large and at these various HBCU’s throughout the country.
For(bes) The Culture: Could you speak to the significance of creating a league like this centered around HBCUs?
Johnson: For us to create this opportunity was huge because it created a level playing field for students that attended HBCUs to be a part of an ecosystem and industry that they were very passionate about and they cared about but had no outlet or resources to really be a part of that space. So, HBCU Esports starting in 2020, was really a platform that gave students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, ways to showcase their talent and amplify what they are doing in the spaces of esports and gaming.
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For(bes) The Culture: With this being the first league of its kind, how do you think it will influence other organizations to center marginalized communities in their work?
Johnson: I think, truthfully speaking, it’s going to provide a lot of outlets. One area I’ll speak on is scholarships. One thing that we’re really big on is making sure that students from marginalized high schools or low income areas are aware that there are opportunities where they can actually tune into their passions around gaming to earn scholarships to attend an HBCU to now pursue a degree in STEM and or esports, depending on the university. That is a new financial pipeline that did not exist. Being able to work with these brands, I think, has inspired a lot of other, either for-profit or nonprofit organizations, to look at the utility of what the esports and the gaming ecosystem can actually benefit or how the ecosystem can benefit minority and marginalized communities.
For(bes) The Culture: Aside from this, what are some other steps that you believe need to be made to encourage minority participation in the gaming and esports industry to combat the massive underrepresentation?
Johnson: I think a lot of it starts with something like an HBCU esports league. One where you need a platform that has media attached to it that’s large enough to highlight the issue. For us, especially as we continue to grow and continue to scale, it’s really around education on multiple levels. There’s the education of the students – that they know that this is an actual opportunity. There is education in the school system for faculty and staff to understand the significance and utility behind what the esports industry can actually create. I also think a big one for the Black community is parents. A lot of parents need to understand why their sons are playing games so much, and if they are, how they can turn that into a passion, and more so into a career. From that standpoint, education is always the first word that we follow, which is where we started by going into underserved schools and HBCUs and teaching them about the importance and economic freedom that something like gaming has created that we’re looking for to take advantage of.
For(bes) The Culture: How do you foresee Cxmmunity continuing to lead the conversation on opening doors for diverse communities in the future?
Johnson: We’re looking now to bring our same now educated gamified audience to the next version of gaming, which is on Web3. We’re very focused now on Web3 and the Metaverse. Not from a lot of the marketing gimmicks that you may hear online, but more so from the same utility of people and young students need to understand the purpose and the rationale behind Web3 and the various applications and how it can be used. In a couple of different areas, we are actually working in a couple of aftercare programs and getting ready to begin working with more HBCUs around their Web3 and their Metaverse strategy, and how they can use things like cryptocurrency, and more of these new industries that are thriving overseas in Southeast Asia.
For(bes) The Culture: When you first started Cxmmunity, did you envision the impact to be as big as it has been today?
Johnson: I did. Early on, we always had the confidence and the faith that we would have a strong impact; we just didn’t know how quickly that would take off. Now since we’ve been able to do so much in the first year or two, it creates that ongoing challenge that we can no longer take any backward steps. Now we’re just focused on, “OK, cool, we did this in year one and year two, going into year three, what type of strategies, plans, and processes need to be in place so that way we’re always growing year over year and not really staying stagnant.” We were very confident in our ability to have an impact, just because we knew two years ago. Although there’s more focus and support around it now, there wasn’t back then. We just stayed true to our cause and true to our intentions. Honestly, a lot of the work and the impact have followed suit.