A decade ago, having esports teams as subsidiaries of traditional sports teams was an impossible thought. Over the years, professional sports teams, such as the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Manchester City, New York Islanders, and much more, saw the potential in esports. Jordan Zelniker, Lead of Esports Strategy for the New York Islanders, stumbled upon the intersection of esports and traditional sports. In this piece, you'll find out about Jordan's career and what it's like leading the esports strategy for the New York Islanders.
Jordan Zelniker Speaks on Leading the Esports Strategy for the NY Islanders
ONE37pm: What does your day-to-day look like?
Jordan Zelniker: Like many will tell you in both sports and esports, no day is the same. We have our competitive season, which runs from about December to July, then we have our off-season where we focus on growth planning and strategic alignment. We’re very lucky to have the support and involvement from so many other departments here at the Islanders, so we’re in collaborative meetings very often, tapping into resources from Isles marketing, partnerships, creative, events, and more. On the competitive side, we also have an entire roster of IslesGT players that we manage, from one-on-one meetings, team calls, watching games and scrims, or even attending events all over the world.
ONE37pm: What are the easiest and hardest parts of your job?
Jordan Zelniker: I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a very talented team who makes my personal role much easier. Our players are some of the most professional in the entire scene, organizing and setting up a practice, competing at the highest level, and fortunately finishing in the top-ranked teams in every tournament. They make my job easier and exceptionally more fun, all the credit goes to them. On the other hand, the hardest parts would be the external factors that we can’t control. Primarily, the development of the game. Unfortunately, we have little to no say in the actual game that we play, which can be frustrating at times. This is something you’ll see more on the sports esports side where the leagues aren’t owned by the publishers, unlike your more endemic esports.
ONE37pm: What do you look for in a potential player to join IslesGT?
Jordan Zelniker: We have a very strict vetting process when it comes to picking our players for IslesGT. Professionalism is of the utmost importance for us here. You don’t just represent our esports team, but you represent the entire brand. We look for a complete blend of professionalism, competitiveness, and entertainment. Most of all, we just want good people to be part of this innovative brand we’re building.
ONE37pm: How do you envision NHL esports in the next five years?
Jordan Zelniker: Well for anyone in the NHL community reading this, they all know I’d love to see a 6v6 league developed at the league level. However, I’m not sure that we as a community will be ready for a 6v6 league in the next few years. First off, the game is not built to be ready for 6v6 competitions at a large scale at this point in time. In terms of the player base, we’re just now in the past few years starting to see a professional shift where kids growing up can actually envision a career playing this game. Look at some of the top NHL streamers, like Nasher and NoSleeves, they’ve taken this community further than any of us just by creating incredible content in the game they love. As we start to see more and more of that and the community supports those streamers trying to grow, then we’ll see massive growth in the NHL esports scene.
ONE37pm: What advice would you give to aspiring people who want to make a career in this intersection between sports and esports?
Jordan Zelniker: My best advice would be just to show up. Personally, when I was trying to get into the space, I was going to as many events as possible, just trying to meet people without asking for anything. Nothing will ever beat face-to-face interactions. There may not be too many live events specifically for NHL, but there are plenty of other public esports events all year round. Find a way to get there, be yourself, and meet as many people as possible. One of those people will eventually help you get your foot in the door. Then one day, you can do the same for someone trying to get into the space.