Second “Hack” Event Pairs Aspiring Student Developers with Amazon Experts for a Day of Education, Team Competition, and Mentorship
WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2019 — On Saturday, Oct. 19, Washington, D.C.-area high school and college students conceptualized and built new video game ideas during the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation’s Lumberyard Hackathon, co-hosted with Amazon Games. The free event, held at the Verizon 5G Lab in D.C., gave budding student developers the opportunity to learn both technical and professional skills while connecting with engineers from Amazon Games for mentorship and career insights. The top prize went to “Absent Future,” a video game in which players must survive in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change.
“We’ve co-hosted this amazing event before, and we know there are both immediate and long-term benefits for the students,” says Anastasia Staten, Executive Director of the ESA Foundation. “It teaches them how not only to create a video game but pitch their ideas for new ones, and it also reinforces the value of so-called soft skills, such as collaborating, problem-solving and working well under pressure.”
“Video games unlock a whole new world to you, and let you appreciate the beauty and the joy in the world,” says Nyhriel Smith, a freshman at Howard University who participated in the event. “Video games have helped me grow and reinforce my identity, and I want to create games that do the same for other people.”
Smith also recently received an ESA Foundation scholarship, which supports her education as she pursues a degree in Computer Programming.
“Having industry professionals at the hackathon means a lot to me,” she says, “because I can connect with the companies that have jobs I hope to pursue in the future.”
The ESA Foundation leverages video games and technology to create engaging educational opportunities for students. Both the Foundation and Amazon Games are committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the video game and technology industries. As part of that effort, they’ve collaborated to host hackathon events with an emphasis on communities traditionally under-represented in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) fields.
“Another big plus of the hackathon is that it connected students with industry professionals, who acted as mentors for the day,” Staten adds. “We thank Amazon Games for being a supportive partner today and in the past, and for their commitment to encouraging a new generation of innovators.”
The event ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., starting with an inspirational Q&A with Lual Mayen, a former Sudanese refugee who now runs a video game company in D.C. and was recently profiled by The Washington Post. Amazon Games experts then conducted a tutorial on design and coding platforms, and students from area high schools and universities—including McKinley Tech High School, Cardozo Education Campus, Howard University, George Mason University, and University of Baltimore—were grouped in teams of four, which, over several hours, conceptualized and created trailers for video games. During the session, experts from Amazon Games answered questions and offered guidance, but left the designing to the students themselves.
Each team then presented its game to a panel of Amazon Games judges and the other student teams. Each game was evaluated on a range of measures, including originality, creativity, ease of use and market potential. After deliberation, the judges awarded prizes to the top projects, and individual student prizes, including Best Team Mentor and Fastest Learner.
In addition to the student participants, the industry as a whole benefits from these kinds of events.
“Investing in a pipeline for future talent is important for Amazon and Amazon Games because we are going to need great game developers to create the games we plan to build,” explains Dani McKenzie, Principal Inclusion Manager for Amazon Games. “The opportunity to work with the ESA Foundation on this D.C. hackathon for a second time is a fantastic opportunity to build that pipeline and connect with students before they graduate, while also connecting with a community that typically has not been very involved in game development.”
Most important, however, is the impact the event has on students, whom, along with charitable organizations, the ESA Foundation funds for positive social impact.
“This is my second hackathon with the ESA Foundation, and both were great,” says Kayla Harwell, a Howard University sophomore. “We got a lot of individualized attention from the experts, who were always there to answer our questions and guide us while giving us the room to learn and even make mistakes. I’ve been to other, much larger hackathons, and it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. This experience really helped convince me that making games is what I want to do.”