Guild Leader Today, Executive Tomorrow

Over the last eight months I’ve built an organization from the ground up, consisting of nearly 300 members spread all over the world. I’ve had to choose team leaders, assign and delegate tasks, recruit, deal with challenges posed by my superiors, make sure the people reporting to me get the resources they need to do their jobs, and manage interpersonal conflicts, all while completing my own goals and objectives.

If I put that on my resume as management experience, most recruiters and hiring managers would go “Wow, that’s pretty impressive.” The problem isn’t the job description. Rather, it’s the job title: Guild Leader.

The last several years have seen the rise and popularization of massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs, or just MMOs) such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Path of Exile. These games are dissimilar from stagnant single player focused affairs or highly competitive (and oftentimes abusive) first person shooters in that they foster a sense of community. Consequently, in game groups, frequently called Guilds, have come into being.

The Guild concept isn’t anything new; the original guilds were groups of individuals playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons who banded together, either for their own enjoyment or for competitive purposes in tournaments. In the new persistent virtual worlds of MMOs, Guilds carried over that sense of camaraderie, due to many players coming from the world of tabletop games, looking for ways to make daunting game worlds into something smaller and more manageable, as well has having the knowledge and generosity of their guildmates to draw upon to improve their characters.

Up until very recently in my gaming career, I had never been a member of a guild. In fact, I had done very little multiplayer gaming at all. When I first dipped my toes into the world of MMOs via Star Trek Online, I found myself looking quickly for a guild to help ease my transition. Having recently discovered the social media site Reddit, and finding many of the other guilds a little too competitive for my tastes, I joined Reddit Alert, the official Star Trek Online guild of Reddit.

Over time I eventually impressed the guild leaders enough such that I found myself in a leadership position, with a front row seat to all the work that goes in to running a guild comprised of hundreds of members spread across the entire world. I had been tracking Marvel Heroes for several months before its official launch, having participated in the open beta weekends at the suggestion of a friend of mine. Just before Marvel Heroes launched in July 2013, the moderators of the r/MarvelHeroes subreddit started asking for suggestions on starting an official Reddit guild for Marvel Heroes. Shortly thereafter, I found myself suddenly thrust into the position of Guild Leader, having been selected from among my peers for coming up with the most clever guild name, and tasked with creating the official Marvel Heroes guild of Reddit, r/Vengers.

I never said gamers were an especially discerning bunch when it comes to picking their leaders, but I’m willing to bet there are a few people in charge of multi-million dollar businesses whose start down the management track was far, far more ridiculous than mine.

Yet, for all the hard work I’ve put in to r/Vengers, turning it from literally nothing into one of the largest in-game guilds, I can’t put it on my resume. Why? There’s still a stigma attached to people older than 22 that still play video games. The perception is that anyone that isn’t in college that still plays video games is a pasty, overweight, acne-riddled social outcast living in his mom’s basement and either fixing computers or flipping burgers. Never mind the fact that the budgets for triple A video games are rapidly approaching Hollywood blockbuster levels, with similarly slick marketing campaigns.World of Warcraft, by far the most popular MMO in the history of the genre, has grossed over $10 billion dollars since its release in 2004. Avatar, the current highest grossing film of all time, checks in at just shy of $2.8 billion. In fact, World of Warcraft alone has grossed more than the top five highest grossing films of all time combined. And yet, this guy is still the poster child for gamers.

It’s no secret that we’re living in rough economic times. While the Great Recession may technically be over, the economy for everyone outside of the 1% is still lagging far behind where it should be. Individuals that in better times might have already retired are hanging on to their jobs for dear life, hoping to rebuild their savings, 401k’s, and equity in their homes devastated in the crash of 2008. For those of us just beginning our careers, the kind of leadership experience that can lead to a promotion or a better job is a precious commodity even in good economic times; in our less than ideal current circumstances, it’s worth more than its weight in gold.

While it’s true that the American business community has taken steps in coming to terms with the multitude of “non-traditional” career paths taken by many of today’s young professionals, the recognition of individuals who have demonstrated both the willingness and ability to take on leadership roles in their free time is lagging far behind. More importantly, it’s beyond time for society to stop stigmatizing gamers as immature men-children, and recognize that playing video games is no different from listening to music, reading a book, or watching a movie. It’s simply another form of entertainment.

The future managers and executives of tomorrow are being forged on distant, digital battlefields today. Whether they’re orcs or elves, soldiers or superheroes, their experience should be no less valuable in an economy desperately looking for leadership.

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