From Competitor to Community Manager

“Grandma, can you cash a $500 check for me?”
“Ummm, what for little man? You’re only 12. Why would you possibly have a check for $500?”
“I’m really good at playing video games and I happened to win a tournament I was in?”

Imagine that conversation for a bit. Place yourself in the grandmother shoes, listening to her 12 year-old grandson asking her to cash a check he received. And it’s not just a $20 check for mowing the lawn of a neighbor; it’s a few hundred dollars for playing a game. Crazy, right?! I’m sure that’s what Lance James’ grandmother was thinking when he asked her to do the same for him, but in this day and age, it’s becoming fairly common.

Lance really began to get into gaming when he was just hitting puberty in middle school. All his life, he’d grown up playing
various types of games on many different systems, starting with Atari. As he got older and acquired a PC, he started playing RTS (real-time strategy) games and fell in love. His favorite and the one he really excelled at was Age of Empires, a game that spans from the Stone Ages to the modern times and is arguably one of the most popular and influential games in the RTS genre. From a young age, Lance knew where his strengths lay and concentrated his energy at excelling in that area. After realizing that he was pretty friggin’ amazing at playing video games, he decided to take his talents on the road and begin competing. While still just barely a teenager, Lance began competing in eSports, a fledgling industry at the time, and ranked as high as 3rd in the nation. For someone that young and in such an immature industry, that’s pretty damn impressive.

Fast forward a few years later and Lance was trying to decide what he wanted to do after high school. Several options were available to him – continuing along the eSports path, going to college, or possibly joining the military.

Growing up in Texas, he was exposed to patriotism at a very young age. Despite most of his family members never having served in the military, Lance’s family was very much involved in instilling a sense of thankfulness for those who had. This sense of duty to country stuck with him so when it came time to decide what he wanted after high school, Lance knew it was to serve his country. So, while still in high school, he enlisted in the United States Army with the desire to serve as a Military Police Officer.

After getting through boot camp, Lance was assigned as a Law Enforcement MP at various bases throughout the Southwest, most notably at Ft. Sill, OK and Ft. Bliss, TX. In 2007, his unit was informed that they were headed to Bagram, Afghanistan where they were to provide training to the Afghan Army. During their pre-deployment workup, having trained for a specific type of environment and scenario, his unit’s mission was changed and they were told that they would no longer be going to Afghanistan. Instead, his unit was headed to Balad, Iraq where they were requested to provide presence patrols (letting the community know the Americans were in town), train the Iraqi police force, and provide overwatch to the local US military forces.

As most that have served are aware, when serving in a combat zone, there is a considerable amount of time where nothing is being done since the unit is either assigned as a quick reaction force, in maintenance period, or in downtime. Lance, the perpetual gamer, constantly made use of his downtime and filled it with video games. The funny thing is, while he was into it because it was what he knew from the time he was young, he began to notice the social nature of it since it brought his brethren into the mix during his downtime. He’d often find himself surrounded by his fellow service members playing various FPS (first person shooter) or other multiplayer games. These moments were some of his most memorable.

After eight years of honorable service, Lance decided it was time for him to move on and determine what he wanted in life. While in the Army, Lance was working on getting his degree in Criminal Justice. So, when he felt it was time to get out, he realized he needed to finish off his degree and start transitioning into the civilian workforce. But, for anyone that has served, transitioning from the military to the civilian world is a very arduous task. Fortunately, during his time in the service, Lance kept in touch with some of his friends in the gaming world. So when he entered civilian life, Lance reached out to his buddies that he met in the eSports gaming realm and eventually landed a job as the community manager for Trion Worlds, makers of games like Rift and Defiance.

Many wonder what a community manager for a gaming company does. Well, for the uninformed, he handles more than just interacting with the fans. Unbeknownst to most, community managers have a plethora of responsibilities. Not only do they maintain the forums, they also interact with the fans, work on delivering the proper message for the company, and take the feedback received from the community and bring it to the attention of the developers. This is probably the most important part of the job. While some fans may think their opinion is not heard, the community manager is the person in charge of bringing this opinion to the developers. In some cases, the development team may not know that an issue is occurring or that a specific function has not been introduced, so it’s the job of the community manager to increase awareness and be the voice of the gamer.

As Lance climbed the ladder in the gaming industry, he began to realize that a lot of his success was attributed to his time in the military. Some folks that serve may not understand the crucial skills they gain while serving. Lance, and many others, are part of that group. However, looking back, after succeeding in the industry, Lance realized that he could attribute much of the success he experienced to his time in the service. For instance, part of his job as both a community and production manager is to ensure his team works together in a efficient and effective manner. He recalls many times as a NCO (non-commissioned officer) where he had to bring people from various religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds together to work as a team in order to successfully complete a mission. They had to work as one to attain the same goal. That basic scenario and solution is exactly what so many companies are seeking in candidates.

For those looking to get into the industry, Lance has two simple words of advice: be known. He attributes his success in the video game industry to getting his name out there. It wasn’t because he was successful at playing games. He made a point to ensure that his name was out there. He attended various trade shows like E3 and PAX. He went out of his way to introduce himself to those that mattered in the industry. He constantly contributed to the gaming forums in which he was actively engaged. And he ensured that he stayed true to the core characteristics he learned from his military service: discipline, teamwork, communication, respect, empathize, and, most importantly, listen. By sticking to these core characteristics, Lance believes you will be able to diffuse any negative situation in which you find yourself in within the gaming industry.  This skill set is what he attributes most of his success to.

And, honestly, how can you argue with a man that’s been so successful thus far?