By Isaac Chandler
January 7, 2020
Jordan Zietz is not your average teenager. At 17-years old, he runs one of the largest high school esports leagues. The All-Star eSports League features more than 20,000 high schools from across the United States.
Our very own Jake Lucky sat down with Jordan over Skype to find out how he managed to get this all going and why.
Jake: Hey there Jordan, how are you doing today?
Jordan: I’m doing pretty good today.
Jake: Awesome, glad to hear. Now, we don’t often cover high school esports here on Esports Talk, but it’s been growing exponentially over the last couple of years. You happen to be at the forefront of that. So, give us a little background about how a 17-year old such as yourself got involved in esports.
Jordan: So, like most teens, I know, I love playing video games. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been playing them. I started with Mario, growing up on the Game Boy, then graduating to Xbox and PC. I’ve played so many console and PC games, more than you can imagine.
I wanted to take that passion with my entrepreneurial side. My parents started their own company, and my sister started her own with sports, too. I knew I had to start my own business, and I knew it had to be related to gaming, so that’s what I did.
It wasn’t esports at first, though, my first company was a video game rental company, but All-Star eSports League came about because I wanted to start an esports team to compete with my friends. We quickly realized, however, that even the least expensive leagues were hundreds to thousands of dollars per student per season, which is insane for high school students. So, the league was founded basically on principle to make high school esports free for everybody.
Jake: And, that’s something for all listeners out there as well. You stressed the fact that it’s free because, as you may know, when it comes time for collegiate and especially pro play, a lot of those things aren’t free. I’m sure we’ll touch more on that later on as well. When it comes to esports, however, you said you came from esports. Was there a game of choice you had for anyone curious about that?
Jordan: So, growing up I used to play a lot of Pokémon. Then I kind of molded towards strategy games as I grew up. I always thought they were more interesting from a personal perspective. At that point, it’s less about physical ability and how fast you can click a controller and more focused on the right strategy behind what’s going on. I like more of that intellectual aspect.
Jake: We see a lot of collegiate esport leagues and more high school esports leagues popping as well. You mentioned the background of the All-Star eSports League and where it came from, but how long has it been in the making? You’re 17 now, so when did the idea first pop into your head. What is your ultimate goal for the league itself?
Jordan: Yeah, so All-Star eSports came about around a year ago. Since then, we’ve seen unprecedented growth. By the metric number of high schools participating, we are the largest high school esports league in the history of esports.
We’ve got over 20,000 high schools participating, which is insane. We can largely attribute that due to our 100% free mentality for students. So, rather than forcing them to circumvent these regulations on public schooling and find ways to get funding for these programs, we’re just telling them, “Hey, you’re already playing esports. Let’s find a way to make it educational and make it kind of evaluate your merit as well.”
Jake: When it comes time for other orgs and leagues to grow up and compete with you, how do you guys separate yourself from that competition?
Jordan: That comes down to our second separate aspect. The first one is that we’re 100%. We want to reward the players. So, currently, other esports leagues don’t even offer prizes to their students. It’s just “Congratulations! You’ve just won the national championship! You get nothing!”… we want to change that.
So right now, we’ve also set the current record for the largest prize pool in the history of high school esports. Right now, it is just over $6 million in controller upgrades, PC systems, scholarships, grants and more for students. We’re incentivizing them to compete and take this seriously and to give it all they’ve got because now there’s something on the line.
Jake: If I’m a high school student watching this right now, how do I get involved in this with my school?
Jordan: So, joining the All-Star eSports League is super easy because it’s entirely student-driven. A lot of schools now have students run their system of clubs. You’ll start your own Club, and you’ll petition and then bring it to administration. That’s a lot of how it works for us.
So, really the students themselves get together, and then they need to get a bunch of friends to visit www.allstaresports.com/registration. Fill out the form and then we review their application. Make sure they are high school students attending a high school in America, and then they’re good to go.
Jake: So, when it comes time for being partnered with schools and students if I’m a student going to a school that’s not partnered with you guys can I still compete?
Jordan: 100%, so All-Star eSports League was founded on this value of inclusivity, something that esports brings that even traditional sports don’t have. Some people don’t have the physical capabilities to compete in traditional sports, especially people with disabilities or people who don’t have schools to represent, like those who are homeschooled.
That’s an advantage of esports that allows us to include absolutely everybody, which is why we maintain this 100% free aspect for economic inclusivity. In that same regard, however, we want to include people that don’t have this program yet. So, it’s easy to start up the same process even if your school is not a member yet.
Jake: Dang that’s huge to hear about. It’s obviously weird coming from my time in high school when people were only starting to talk about this kind of stuff, so it’s come along so quickly. Touching back on what you said about what you give away for participating in this league, can you expand more on that and what you’re offering to all your competitors who can go the distance in Regionals or Nationals in your system?
Jordan: Yeah, so prizing ultimately boils down to mostly being at the Regional/National level. So, the easiest way to get prizing is to make it to there. Now we do have prizes to kind of promote responsibility and acting with sportsmanship, even though its esports.
So we do give away prizes for that. But, the bulk of the prizes are going to participants who are able to compete at the Regional and National championship level. The majority of that is in the form of scholarships. This is because, foundationally, at the All-Star eSports League, we truly believe in the pursuit of education.
Education has been super important for me growing up and my parents have instilled that in our entire family. I guess that’s a value of mine now that I hope to instill in the community as well. There’s this sentiment where people are wanting to go pro and dropping out of school. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I think the way to go pro is while you’re still in school and pursuing your education so that you can be a multi-faceted person. That’s why we so heavily promote scholarships as our number one form of prizing.
Jake: You know, it’s kind of funny, right now that debate is certainly hot, especially when it comes to choosing collegiate esports or going pro. Many either are dropping out completely or trying to mix both their education and pro career, which can be very difficult. This is an interesting take for you to instill that very early on that you can compete while also getting an education. When it comes to the esports that you’ve chosen, though, there’s only three right now, so can you expand on why you chose those three? I think many people are curious about what games you might choose for the future for the league?
Jordan: The All-Star eSports League, by students for students, is completely student-driven. We’ve polled and surveyed our community and said, “What games are you looking for from us? Would you like more or less? Do you like the current set up of games? How many people would be interested in competing in a new game? What if they interfered with one another?”
All these questions come into the picture when we’re deciding which games to select. Ultimately that perfect algorithm, that perfect formula, boiled down to Fortnight, Overwatch and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate for us. We still are taking responses because we’re continually growing and looking to expand to new games soon, which will hopefully be very soon.
You can go to www.allstaresports.com/game-suggestions to suggest new games for us to set up competitions in. We utilize responses from that to go to developers and say, “Hey, we have a lot of high schoolers in our league interested in competing in this. Let’s make it happen.”
Jake: For sure. On that note as well, we’ve seen a few stories out there of high schools and their esports teams rejecting a few esports because of the violence or the gore in those. Is that a foreseeable issue in the future as well that you guys maybe would run into with a few games like Counter-Strike or other FPS’, like would you foresee it maybe being an issue at all?
Jordan: We’ve totally run into that issue before in the past. It’s something to consider, which is why we don’t mandate our teams to play absolutely every esport. Each school is different. Some schools have been all in and playing CSGO, Fortnite, and other games like that. Other schools want nothing to do with it. They’ll limit their team to games below a certain ESRB rating. That’s completely fine, which is why we don’t force them to play in every game.
We want everybody to be able to participate regardless of the game you’re interested in. We don’t limit our schools to having to play every single game or only being able to play one. You can play as many or as few as you like.
Jake: It’s interesting for sure because it’s definitely been an ongoing issue for school-level esports. Hopefully, this kind of thing you guys are running helps combat the stigma against some of these titles by people that are against at least some esports and games out there. When it comes time for thinking about the future of this high school esports league, you’ve talked about your goals and where you came from as well. Is this eventually going to be where people or future pros go, coming up through your system like how it is in football or basketball? Is that a thought in the back of your head that this could be a potential future for this or a potential goal?
Jordan: 100%, that’s very interesting because, whereas in traditional sports, you see college athletes peaking in their first few years, let’s say in the NFL or the NBA. Esports is different in that the peak age for esports athletes are when they’re in high school. So we’ve seen some of our sign-ups compete against pros and competing in pro leagues and pro tournaments. It is very exciting to see because now we’ve got this specific high school representation, whereas before they were just in there before as a member of, let’s say the Super Smash Brothers community.
Now we’ve got pro players competing who are saying, “I’m here representing all of the high school students across the country” and they’re doing exceedingly well, which is fantastic to watch.
Jake: Sounds like it’s just gonna be a bright future for a lot of people who go through your league. Speaking of which, you briefly touched on it before as well. When it comes time for you to decide on your college plans or going pro, or if the time comes for someone in your league to make that choice, what advice would you give them currently? Would you advise them to consider going on to a collegiate league or a pro one?
Jordan: Obviously it would change case-by-case, but ultimately it comes down to what the student wants. I’m a huge believer in pursuing what you want as you see fit. So, if my dreams aren’t your dreams, and your dreams aren’t somebody else’s dreams, then you have to pursue your own. An important step, acting almost like a landing barrier and helping you get that extra boost towards achieving those dreams, is receiving a good education. That’s why scholarships are super valuable for those students who can’t afford college, or it would be financially burdensome for them to do so.
Now, we make that a lot more accessible. That’s why I say whether you compete in a pro league or a collegiate league, I think it’s great to do absolutely whatever you want just as long as you’re simultaneously finding a way to pursue an education in what interests you.
Jake: Very solid answer. It’s definitely gonna depend upon a lot of other circumstances as well. Speaking on the funding of the league, you guys offer these students a lot in return for competing. When it comes to where this funding comes from, can you expand more on that? You’re definitely garnering more funding than any other high school league out there, even more than some collegiate ones.
Jordan: Yeah, funding has come from a wide variety of different partners. A lot of the stuff that we bring to our community from All-Star eSports comes from our different peripheral partners, from our official food partners, from our title sponsors, and from outside investors like Eric Bensussen, who have done a fantastic job not just of financially supporting the league but also supporting the league in other regards as well. They weigh-in their advice, help out and ultimately share the dreams and values of All-Star eSports.
That’s what we find so important so when we’re looking for new partners. As much and as exciting as it would be to say we’d love another $5 million from this person or another $20 million from that person, a lot of what we look for is people who share our identity in being inclusive and supporting our community.
Jake: Bouncing off that as well, when it comes to partners and investors, obviously a return is expected somewhere. You guys really push a free league, so when it comes time for bringing a return to your investors or yourselves, how do you guys persist in the future and actually maintain a free league? It can be a big worry for high school students if you guys can’t make a return. How long does it stay free, or are there future plans to keep it that way permanently, and how is that feasible?
Jordan: The All-Star eSports League will always be free, that’s something that I can personally guarantee because it’s one of our founding principles. At the point that we cave and are no longer free, we just become another one of those greedy leagues looking for a cash grab and then exiting the market never to be seen again.
Instead, we’re here to stay. We want to become the official high school league. Our 100% free principal is how we got endorsed by the National Esports Association as the only official high school esports league. That’s really important for us to be able to maintain that. So, we do see other revenue streams through sponsorships and recruitment opportunities for students, but ultimately student privacy comes number one and maintaining that inclusivity as well.
Jake: And is that an issue at all when it comes to dealing with players of this age? Have you experienced any troubles in that regard when it comes to protecting those player rights? Obviously, they’re not the adults that college and above deal with, so are there any other additional issues you undergo when dealing with a younger crowd?
Jordan: Definitely, the information collected has to go through a very, very, very secure process. A huge part of All-Star eSports is protecting this information we have. It has never been passed on to third parties or outside sources, whereas other leagues are kind of selling that information to outside organizations. Currently, everything is internal and is only used for bettering the students, or if we need to make an announcement or let them know where a venue for an event will be at.
Jake: Interesting, definitely gonna be a crazy year for sure. Speaking of which, when it comes to those venues, how do you guys select that. How does that process go down when it comes to choosing what stadium, arena, or location?
Jordan: It’s almost like choosing one of our current partners in that while there is a lot of financial benefits where we’ve had stadiums come to us and say, “Hey look, you’re gonna bring a ton of esports players and we’d love that attention. We’ll give you $30,000 to hold the event here.” A lot of times, it comes towards finding that perfect fit. What’s gonna work best for all of our players so that they can enjoy it, and is it something that can handle the kind of scale of the event we’re looking to put on?
Some of the venues are far too small to be able even to fit what we’re looking for, so when we find that perfect fit, that’s a place we pursue.
Jake: When it comes to reporting results, have you guys run into any issues when it comes time for cheaters? Obviously, it’s a prevalent issue elsewhere so do you have a plan to combat that as well now or in the future?
Jordan: Cheating is something very interesting. Being a high school community, integrity matters no matter what the game you’re playing. Even in traditional sports, you have to follow the rules, that’s how they work. So, when we see people cheating, we do have an Integrity Commission that kind of watches that stuff.
So they’re in-game when games are being played, almost like the Secret Service where you don’t know which player they are, but they’re watching out for that sort of stuff. We review replays of the winning players to make sure that they deserve the qualifications they’ve received, and then again on site. We technically haven’t had any cheaters win as we’ve reviewed almost every single winner so far. If not, then we’ll be getting to them very soon to make sure they follow up. In regard to that process. We are constantly monitoring that by not just disqualifying a student but also banning them from the community. We are about promoting a positive influence on high school students and cheating at that point is just unacceptable.
Jake: When it comes to those competitions as well, you know speaking of yourself. You run a high school esports league. You’re 17 slowly coming up on a potential choice between college and this operation. Have you thought about what your plans maybe for the future?
Jordan: I mean, speaking personally, I know I want to go to a university. Education is something that seriously matters to me. I know that regardless of what I want to go into, which I believe would probably be entrepreneurship, I just know that I’d probably want to pursue an education.
As for All-Star eSports, I know I’m gonna be sticking with it. I’ve assembled a fantastic team around me that I work with, both adults and high school students, as well as interns. I think it’s super fantastic. I never want to leave this community.
Jake: Another solid answer. So, one last thing I’ll leave you on. When it comes time for not only future plans for yourself but those we’ve discussed for the league, is there anything else of note you want to end this interview on? Where people can go to check out more about you guys? Do you see expansion as in maybe a carry-over All-Star eSports League from high school to colleges? What else can you maybe tell us for a brief hint of the future?
Jordan: All I can say that All-Star eSports has definitely got some exciting stuff coming up in the future. Out at one of our last recent partnership events, we did have a great partnership with the Mixer streamers and with Ship, one of the top Fortnite players in the world. That’s just a sample of what’s to come from the massive pool of celebrities we’ve got going to these regional and national championship events.
Super exciting, again whether you like esports or not you’re gonna want to be at these. They’re basically huge parties revolving around esports and competition galore. You definitely want to be there and for more information, of course, just visit our website at www.allstaresports.com. All the information I think that anybody could be looking for would be there. If not, we’ve got a contact form. You can join our Discord community. The link is on the website. Feel free to get to know some of the players competing in our league there.
Jake: Well Jordan I really do appreciate your time man. You know, the 17-year old running the high school esports scene. I never thought I would say that line. Thank you much very much for all your time and best of luck for your future.