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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: This Successful Management Consultant Turned His Childhood Passion Into an Esports Career

Spring 2019

Erik Bleitz began an adventure of a lifetime when he was just 15, a kid obsessed with Lego, Star Wars and video games — a proud, self-described “geek” who then parlayed his interests into a rich, unique career path that recently took a turn back to his roots.

Bleitz loved playing at a local laser tag park, so much so that the owner offered him a job when an employee abruptly quit. After all, he was there constantly, and the boss said he knew the job better than most of the employees. Besides that, he knew Bleitz truly loved the place. Soon he was pulling tokens at the video arcade and running the go-kart track.

“Why does this matter now, so many years later? I think back on my first work experiences and the thing that stands out most is passion,” Bleitz said. “I was hired at those jobs because the managers had seen me there countless times, demonstrating how passionate I was about what they did. I enjoyed my first jobs because I loved what I was doing.”

Bleitz went on to earn an MBA and work as a conflict resolution specialist, management consultant, and entrepreneur. But his love of gaming never left, and it eventually won out. Today he serves as a consultant for UC Irvine's championship-winning esports program. He's also a recent graduate of the Division of Continuing Education's Esports Management program, his first step into this booming, nascent industry.

His new mission is helping interactive entertainment companies solve complex problems and “grow and develop the heroes who are creating the world's most legendary entertainment experiences.”

It's a career move straight from the heart. And those first jobs at 15 paved the way.

“They taught me the value of hard work. You can't show up and say, ‘I like games. I like esports. Give me a job.’ Everyone in esports is a super-passionate geek, so you have to distinguish yourself. Don't tell people you love games. Show them you love games by demonstrating what you can do for them. Take action — and work your butt off.”

The engaging 35-year-old lives in Hollywood with his wife Layla, soon to be joined by their first child due in May. He recently took time to field questions about his new career path and experience with the DCE program.

Let's go back to the early days. Elaborate on how those first jobs at 15 helped prepare you for your new career path.

Those jobs taught me a lot of basic, important lessons, but the main thing — and it took me a long time to realize this — is that I enjoyed them because I loved what I was doing. When I finally decided to leave the world of professional services and follow my passion in esports, I thought back to my early days and how excited I was to work on something I was genuinely passionate about.

Your original career plan was to join the Marines – as a lifelong gamer, what drove you to join an ROTC Unit?

I wasn't into sports as a kid, but I've always loved working with a team — especially on really tough problems. I like a challenge. A lot of the skills you learn playing online games are transferable to the high-intensity, team-oriented military environment. While an injury sent me to grad school instead of the Marines, my five years of ROTC in high school and college prepared me to be a leader more than any other life experience. My best friends are also still in the service – and we connect almost daily through video games, even though they're stationed overseas.

You've had plenty of success as a management consultant. What motivated you to take a risk and pursue a career in esports?

About a year ago, I decided it was time for a career change. I had a successful consulting practice, but I just wasn't passionate about the industry I was working in. I couldn't imagine devoting another year, not to mention 30-plus years of my creative energy, to a field I didn't love. Around the same time, I started playing video games again, after taking a long break. I tried very hard to ‘grow up’ in my 20s and had told myself at the time, despite being a huge geek and lifelong gamer, that ‘games were for kids.’ I realized within about a week of playing that gamers are my tribe, and that I wanted to devote my career to making an impact on the gaming community.

What led you to choose the Division of Continuing Education's certificate program?

Long story short, I was introduced to it by Henry Ngo, who manages business programs for DCE. Henry's a gamer and esports fan who spent three-plus years working to design the program. He was so passionate about the curriculum that I was ready to sign up within five minutes of talking to him. And the fact that every instructor was currently working in an esports role at a major organization was a huge selling point. I wanted to learn from people who were doing the jobs I wanted to have.

How has it prepared you to launch a career in esports management?

It's an incredible way to network and meet others with the same passions and professional ambitions. Your fellow students are the people you'll be working with in a few years. In fact, in my current role at UCI Esports, I'm already interacting with two of my former classmates who were hired at major gaming/esports companies. Then there's the portfolio. The practical assignments I created in my courses are now part of my professional portfolio. I have actual work to show potential employers and clients.

Finally, it's simply the knowledge and background. Despite my love for games, I really didn't know a ton about the esports industry when I started looking at new job opportunities. Through my courses and conversations with classmates, I feel I now have a pretty good understanding of the general landscape. Tell me about your involvement with the main campus UCI esports program. I'm working with the UCI Esports team on a long-term strategic plan that will foster innovation and inclusivity, generate sustainable revenue for growth, and develop students for future careers. I'm also working with UCI's Esports Industry Board, where our academic leaders are collaborating with industry leaders to create a global hub for esports here at the university.

Sounds like your business acumen is paying off for the program.

Yeah, I've discovered my background in strategic planning, operations, and organizational effectiveness has a lot of application in the world of collegiate esports. It's so new and cutting-edge. Every program, including UCI's, is essentially a startup business.

So why do you consider it to be the premiere collegiate esports program in the country?

UCI's esports program is the best for a few reasons. First, UCI had the courage to innovate — and launch the first program of its kind at a public research university. Second, UCI is one of the few universities to embrace a holistic approach — encompassing competition, academics and research, community, entertainment, and careers.

Finally, our teams are the best. Our League of Legends team won the 2018 national championship – and our Overwatch team had a perfect record last year until the finals. While the 2019 season hasn't started yet, our Overwatch team has already won both the NorCal and SoCal California Cups – it's going to be a good year.

Learn more about Esports Management at ce.uci.edu/esports.