Bringing Value to Collegiate Esports: An Interview with Kiernan Ensor

Kiernan Ensor is the President of Conference One (CF1), a varsity/college organization that brings communities together through elite VALORANT competitions. As the main driver of participation, league expansion and creating return on investment for schools, Kiernan draws on his vast experience in the varsity esports space.

NGame: How did you get involved with Conference One?

Kiernan Ensor: I got involved in Conference One back in May 2020, sort of in the midst of the pandemic. I was still working full time at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where I was the program director of their esports initiative. I had taken the program over two years prior and had grown it from eight kids and one team to 75 students, over 12 teams and a fully built-up facility. But it was part of a graduate assistant position, so my time at the school was rapidly coming to an end.

I was at a crossroads, and I had to decide if I was going to work for an esports company, go back on campus to a larger school or build out my consultancy. I was taking a meeting for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) when someone started talking to me, and we really vibed. They asked if I’d like to come on board at Conference One and run a collegiate league.

It was a natural fit and the stars sort of aligned. About three weeks later, I was the president of Conference One.

NGame: Can you talk about the Conference One Spring competition?

Kiernan Ensor: We’re running a Spring competition this semester for VALORANT that will take place over about 15 weeks. We’re starting with a round-robin before introducing an exciting factor where we eliminate the lower-ranked teams of each of our groups. A second round-robin will give schools the chance to stoke that rivalry and get back in the game.

Later, we’ll do regional competitions leading into a national tournament and crown the final grand champion of CF1. We are really excited about the growth of the number of schools participating and the caliber of the schools involved. We had about anywhere between 35 to 40 schools compete in one of our Fall tournaments, but this time we have 48 schools that are competing for the duration. We’re happy that we got the vote of confidence from our schools that competed in the Fall and that they were encouraging enough that a lot of other schools joined as well.

We’re doing broadcasts three days a week now on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and a “Match of the Day” just trying to get on that content grind. It’s definitely going to be a different and interesting experience.

Then for the Fall, we want to work with our partners over at Riot and our other endemic partners to see what everyone’s doing. In addition we’re looking at expanding our title selection, too.

NGame: Why is Conference One a great platform for collegiate programs to compete?

Kiernan Ensor: Conference One was founded on the idea that we take something from all of our collegiate competition forebearers. Whether it’s CSL, AVGL, PlayVS, EGF, ECAC, CCA, CCL … we’ve seen all of these collegiate competitions grow and become a staple of our collegiate scene. We want to combine the best features of a lot of them.

Part of what we really did was structure our format in a way that allows schools and students to build hype. We’re starting to treat it a lot more like a traditional sports competition, where you can start planning and marketing. Right now our players have schedules for the next ten weeks.

Conference One also helps to level the playing field. Students have taken on so much of the load for college esports for so long that there has become a huge disparity between those schools and big programs like Maryville, Harrisburg or Full Sail, where they’re getting a lot of administrative support. Oftentimes they’re paired up against schools that are just student-run, but that disparity and difference in professionalism oftentimes create conflict. Conference One tries to minimize these issues, by mandating certain criteria in order to participate, and assisting schools to meet that criteria.

Lastly, we’re really open to feedback and receptive to the comments of our students. On our staff, we have a lot of voices in the room that represent the student interests. That helps balance between what I think the school and organization need, etc., and what the students want. To have that counterbalance and that constant communication and taking constant feedback has allowed us to do a lot of interesting things and will help us grow in interesting ways come the future.

Written by HB Duran
Interview by Cody Daniels

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