Cxmmunity is an Atlanta-based nonprofit started in February 2020 with the mission “to increase minority representation within the Esports and video game industries.” The collective founded by HBCU grads Ryan Johnson and Chris Peay has become the premier gaming league among the HBCU community. However, that push for representation also means getting more minorities into these spaces as creators, too.
So last year, Cxmmunity partnered with Microsoft to provide more than 50 HBCUs nationwide with their Xbox Kits with the aim of creating their own gaming labs. Verizon even pledged $1 million to HBCUs with the establishment of the Verizon Game Forward Scholarship, whose mission is “to increase female representation in the gaming industry and bolster opportunity and presence in STEM careers.”
Read what Chris Peay, co-founder & chief marketing officer of Cxmmunity, shared with CASSIUSLife about the organization and what the next five years hold for the growing community of minority gamers, tech enthusiasts, and developers.
CASSIUSLife: What were some of the things that led to the creation of Cxmmunity?
Chris Peay: Early on, [we realized] that 83% of African American millennials play video games on a daily basis. But then you look at the spectrum of people that work within the video game space, specifically developers, [and] there’s only about 2% to 3% of African Americans that make up that space.
It’s one of those things where, when you think about titles like Grand Theft Auto, Madden, and NBA 2K, we’re always the consumer and hardly ever the actual beneficiary. So we really just wanted to start [casting] a wide net as it relates to making sure we can get young minority students hired within the Esports and video game industries.
So we started basically breaking down a community, in a sense, to break down the different systemic barriers that exist larger than the tech industry. But then, by using gaming as a tool to engage the students, we teach them different digital literacy skills from there.
CASSIUSLife: Can you tell us about some of the values and core areas that make up Cxmmunity?
Chris Peay: Today, we operate on three pillars: Esports, education, and entertainment.
[When it comes to] Esports and gaming, we own and operate the largest Black on the Esports property to date on Twitch, and that is [with] the HBCUs. I myself graduated from an HBCU, North Carolina Central University. My co-founder Ryan [Johnson], graduated from Oakwood University, which is an HBCU in Huntsville, Alabama. And so essentially [we’re] just starting with what we wish we had in school. So it’s the first of its kind competitive Esports League specifically for historically black colleges and universities.
When we started, there was one school that had an Esports program (Morehouse College), and they were competing on a national level. But now we’re within like two years, we’re able to unlock about 36+ Esports programs at these schools with the ultimate goal is just unlocking an additional revenue stream for HBCUs in general that they might not have known existed in the past. And so, of course, when you put that on the spectrum of HBCUs historically black colleges to PWIs predominantly white institutions, I would say there’s about 70% difference in Esports programs. Our goal there is literally just to grow an HBCU Esports club or team official team at each campus. So that’s kind of what we’re doing now is just being able to scale.
But ultimately we work with Twitch, [who functions] like our agency of record, to kick this league off. And so we’ve just been blessed to be able to create this property. But then it also is sponsored by Verizon. It’s sponsored by Discover, sponsored by Nike House of Hoops. We’ve been able to do work with Warner Brothers and Space Jam, where we flew eight HBCU students here to Atlanta to compete in the Space Jam: A New Legacy video game tournament. The two finalists got a chance to fly out to Los Angeles with us to attend the world premiere of the Space Jam: A New Legacy movie. So these students are now on the red carpet with the likes of LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Anthony Davis, all the people that they look up to.
And so just being able to provide HBCU and under served underrepresented students with access, first of all. But then again, like I said, just making sure that we always hone in on teaching them different digital literacy skills and then making sure that they realize that these opportunities exist and then they can get hired within this industry going to our next one is education. So we run as of right now in Esports career readiness program. Those range from once a month [where] we may do pop-up STEM camps. Then we also have like a nine-week program where we’re working with students. Our current one now is with Comcast and the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia.
And so [at a] very high level, they’re getting a little bit of curriculum: encoding, event management, event planning, business marketing, the whole nine. It’s an extra career readiness program that we run. And then we also have Comcast Atlanta. And those are kind of like our two current education programs that we’re running today.
CASSIUSLife: What have you noticed as some of the biggest barriers to entry for gamers and developers of color?
Chris Peay: So one of the biggest barriers to entry starts with community, the biggest barrier to entry as it relates to professional gaming is console versus PC. So, of course, growing up as a young African American male, just speaking for myself, it’s very rare that we had a household computer, let alone one that we could play video games on. Right? So if we did have a computer, it probably [used a] dial-up [modem], where you couldn’t necessarily be on the computer and the house phone at the same time. And it also did not move as fast or efficiently for you to play titles like League of Legends, which are some of the more respected titles as it relates to Esports.
But what we did have was consoles. So we may have a PlayStation One PS2, or an Xbox where we can play titles. But they’re mostly sports titles. So we may be playing Madden, NBA2K, or something like a Fight Night, for example. Those aren’t necessarily the games that are like, if you want to become a professional gamer, you have to know this thing that’s kind of like one of the biggest barriers to entry that we wanted to kind of understand, realize, and then just provide access.
So I’ll say access is the biggest barrier to entry. But something that we’re doing to change that is building out Esports labs and innovation labs at the campuses we work with. We started the League 2020, and by the following year, we had worked with a few different brands, especially Red Bull, to unlock some funds inside of their foundation and then build out an Esports lab.
And now we’re building actual PC labs where students can compete. They have a place to go after they formed their newly found Esports club.
CASSIUSLife: Esports is generally considered a male-dominated space. But what is Cxmmunity doing to address the concerns of female gamers and tech enthusiasts?
Chris Peay: So the biggest response that we specifically get from a lot of our video game developers is they most want to focus on Black women. I’ll say that they want to focus on women, of course, but then to dig a little bit deeper, and [with] women being underrepresented, you can’t leave out the Black woman. And I’ll say the response has been great.
Verizon is really pushing to support those women studying STEM. They’re looking to create some sort of pipeline, and that’s also what we’re doing. We’ve been blessed to work with [multiple] brands, but then also blessed in the sense where we are able to turn down brand deals, too. If it does not come with some sort of tangible good that directly impacts the students, [like] portfolio opportunity, a job, an internship opportunity, scholarship opportunity? We’ve been able to turn those things down. And I’ll say we think we’ve done that probably two or three times as of now.
But for the most part, a lot of the corporate partners that we work with help fuel our mission and help realize that goal. To date, that we’ve been able to work with companies such as NBA2K as pipeline partners, where they’re looking for 24 HBCU students to come out to Nevada and California this summer. They’ll pay for them to travel, their lodging, and to work for a twelve-week time period as interns at Take-Two Interactive.
And that’s the first time that that’s ever been done, having started from the HBCU Sports League. Now we’re able to work with Black women that are in gaming, such as Ms. Tony Ligands from NBA2K.
CASSIUSLife: In 2005, about 2% of video game developers identified as Black. More than a decade-and-a-half later, that number has only doubled to 4%. What do you think the industry will look like in five years? And what else will Cxmmunity do to impact that number?
Chris Peay: I think Cxmmunity’s done an excellent job of carving out our lane helping the youth and direct consumers realize that basically everything that they can imagine is at their fingertips. I think that the brands that will win in the future are the brands that connect with people on an emotional level. Gone are days where all you can do is a logo slap and it actually works.
I think now it’s mostly about how are you impacting me as an individual in the world that I care about. And I think that’s where Cxmmunity has been able to carve out our lane, where brands are now looking at us like, “Hey, this is what we want to do, [and] we realize that we aren’t doing it right based on the story that you’re telling.”
Because I would say the gaming industry is probably one of the last industries that has not seen a decline since its inception. But it also now realizes that diversity is a thing, that toxic environments are no longer doable or feasible, and people are going to begin to speak out and speak up on these things.
Definitely have them join our Discord. Follow us on social media, of course, at Cxmmunity.co. And just tap in and then join our Discord. I would say, honestly, a lot of times we find ourselves having more opportunities than we have students. And so just that said alone, there are things that like scholarships that may go unapplied for. There’s also [opportunities] like NBA2K trying to get 24 HBCU interns, right? There are a ton of those opportunities that exist.