Pioneer Senior Austin Jackson Receives Esports Scholarship

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The video game industry is one of the most rapidly expanding markets in the world, boasting a global revenue stream that totalled 180 billion dollars in 2020. That is more money than the film industry (100 billion) and American sports (75 billion) combined. As a result, the demand for competitive esports leagues has skyrocketed causing colleges across the country to begin their first varsity teams and offer scholarships. One of the beneficiaries of this wave of the future is Ann Arbor Pioneer senior Austin Jackson who will be attending Lawrence Technical University on an esports scholarship.

Video games have become an integral part of nearly every 21st century childhood and Jackson’s was no different. “Since I was 5 or 6 I have great memories playing with the Game Boy, DS, or GameCube,” he said.

However, it was soon apparent that Jackson had a greater aptitude for video games than the average kid. Jackson’s friend and Pioneer senior Anthony Gibbons recalls, “I started playing video games with Austin in 7th grade. I remember a time when we were at his house and we decided to play against each other in Madden. Normally, Madden is the game I am best at, but Austin destroyed me.”

Despite his evident talent, Jackson claims that he only realized that he could play at a competitive level when Fortnite introduced their tournament feature at the end of 2018. “I realized that I was good enough to have a shot at winning some money and I have won around 300 dollars from those,” he said.

Jackson encourages other video games to keep adding these competitive modes because it helps kids like him realize their potential. “I think it’s great how these games and others have given back to their player base and inspired kids like me to pursue a higher level of competition,” he said.

Even with the success he was beginning to earn from playing video games Jackson never seriously considered playing on an esports team outside of a couple of Fortnite Clans with friends. “I had no idea or intention of playing esports in college until a couple of months ago. I was planning to go to Lawrence Tech already to major in architecture and I just happened to see that they were starting an esports team this year,” he said. 

After the seed was planted in Jackson’s mind, the whole process became a whirlwind. “I sent an email to the coach with some game clips, not really expecting to hear back. But she responded, set up a zoom meeting with me, and when she offered me a scholarship I lost my mind, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Lawrence Tech esports Head Coach Danielle Sirekis had positive commentary on Jackson’s skill. “Austin is very passionate about esports and wants to be a part of the team, he plays very strategically and with purpose. He is willing to learn and grow with the program, which is instrumental for the success of the inaugural esports team at Lawrence Tech,” she said.

When he is not playing video games or doing school work Jackson is also an active member of his community as president of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti-Inkster Kappa League. This leadership role was important to his Sirekis. “He’s very involved in the community and this speaks volumes about his character. Moving forward we hope to be involved in community service programs,” she said. 

Jackson will be playing primarily Overwatch and occasionally League of Legends for Lawrence Tech his freshman year and he hopes to play Valorant as well once the team expands to cover a couple more games.

So what gives Jackson the extraordinary ability to play esports at the next level? His friends claim that some of it is natural talent. “Every time a new video game comes out, Austin always seems to catch on very quickly and become better than everyone,” Gibbons said.

However, Jackson has also spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours honing this talent. “I think Austin has definitely reached the point where he is at through both hard work and talent. Austin has been grinding games for so long,” Pioneer senior Jack Shemke said.

Jackson personally believes that a large part of his success is owed to the guidance of his mother. “My mom has always been incredibly supportive. No parent loves seeing their kid stay up super late playing video games and she always makes sure that school comes first and games second. But since I have shown her that there was real potential to make money and pay for college she was excited and helped me however she could,” he said.

Another way that Jackson stokes his personal drive is by watching players who are coming up behind him. “I am also constantly motivated by the impressive streamers and professional players who are younger than me,” he said.

What sets Jackson apart though is not just his individual skill, but his ability to work as a part of a team. “Austin is a super friendly and kind guy. These traits help when we are playing together because he helps everyone get along and work together. Obviously, there are times when we can get pretty competitive when playing, but Austin knows the line when we have to work together and get along again,” Gibbons said. 

Shemke echoed this sentiment saying, “Austin is very funny and charismatic. When he plays video games, he brings a lot of energy and makes it really fun for everyone.”

Knowing this about Jackson, it makes sense that he views the most important part of gaming to be communication. “If you and your teammates start to argue about something, strategy goes out the window and the game is over,” he said.

Other keys for Jackson’s success in a match are preparation and a short memory. “For me to be ready to compete in a game, I need to warm up for around an hour to get my aim up. Then when I’m in a tough position the only thing I have to do is stay calm and try to handle it. If it doesn’t go my team’s way then there is always the next round,” he said.

Jackson is unsure of what the future holds for his esports career, but he is looking forward to finding out. “This experience has taught me to never say never and shown me that maybe something like professional gaming is possible in my future. Regardless, I don’t think my love for video games will ever go away and I hope to keep them as a hobby for the rest of my life,” he said.