Shenandoah University Esports Assistant Director and Head Coach Zach Harrington has been named the College Esports Head Coach of the Year by the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD).
Harrington coaches all Shenandoah’s varsity esports teams, and has taken its Rocket League squads to playoff appearances in National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), PlayVS, and Mid-Atlantic Esports competitions and the Smash team to a Top 8 finish in NACE competition. Harrington, who has experience as a competitive gamer, has also used his technical expertise to help propel the growth of the university’s esports program, enabling it to run live esports events and build a state-of-the-art esports arena with a broadcast production room used for live streaming and content creation. Additionally, he is the co-founder of GHS Esports Solutions, a consulting firm which provides assistance to businesses on the development and implementation of esports initiatives.
Harrington said he was surprised, humbled, and proud when he learned he had received the honor. “This award is a reflection of our program as a whole, and is really a testament to the hard work and success of our students and all the faculty and staff who support Shenandoah Esports,” he said.
This honor goes to show the work and level of effective engagement Zach has with the students in the program. His style of coaching and engagement goes far beyond gaming. He is having a lasting impact on these students’ lives, while also leading them to incredible success across different game titles. It goes to show how we operate and the work that we put in as a program, with Zach being an integral part of SU Esports.”
Joey Gawrysiak, Ph.D. | Director and Associate Professor of Esports
“It means a lot to me seeing all the hard work that everyone’s put into the program be recognized,” Harrington added. “It’s been amazing seeing our students step up and thrive during such a challenging year, and their resilience and passion continually inspires me.”
Gawrysiak added that honors like the one conferred upon Harrington by NACE help legitimize some of the esports industry. “Collegiate esports continues to grow at an exponential rate and there are a lot of people trying to figure things out. This award, and others like it, help to identify where the key leaders in the space are to help mentor others to get to that level.”
Shenandoah’s esports environment is multilayered, and its varsity esports teams draw players from across the university. Only about half of the players are also majoring in esports, Gawrysiak said. “The competitive side of the esports program here at SU is one side of the program. The academic part is another side. Then there are some students involved in the program not doing either, but are working on social media, content creation – more of the professional development side of the esports program.”
The foundation of a successful esports program is establishing a culture of collaboration, sportsmanship, and growth. I’ve found that success comes from empowering the students and providing them with the opportunity to step up and take ownership of their journey, and I am constantly surprised at the new heights they continue to achieve.”
Zach Harrington | Esports Head Coach
“What makes this program one of the best in the world is that we offer so much more than just gaming,” Gawrysiak said, regarding Shenandoah’s program. “Of course, these parts all interact and overlap at times to work together as a whole program, but students do not have to do one to do the others. Players do not need to major in esports. Esports majors do not need to compete in esports, etc. The different parts integrating as a whole is why we emphasize that Shenandoah University Esports goes beyond gaming.”