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Alumni | Business and Industry | Lion VoicesFebruary 16, 2024

Readying Player One and the Gamer, Cody Holt

Written By: Ian Silvester

Playing video games has been a part of mainstream culture since coin-operated arcade games became popular in the 1970s. In the decades since, games have become more sophisticated and moved into homes through consoles, hand-held devices, and even cell phones. As games evolved into more complex stories with enhanced graphics, the perception of games and gamers also improved.

Cody Holt, an instructor and eSports coach at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, was born and raised throughout the evolution of games. He has loved games and gaming for as long as he can remember and can still lose himself for hours in his current favorite, Baldur’s Gate III, a fantasy role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons.

“It is very easy to get lost in games,” Holt said with a laugh as he pondered his ability to become fully immersed in a game he is playing. Just as any game protagonist gets wrapped up in the storyline that drives the plot, Holt’s love of gaming has wrapped him in the life he lives.

Level One: Tutorial

Growing up in South Dakota and Arkansas, Holt found solace in school and games. Both his parents were educators and taught Holt the importance of gaining his education.

“I was absolutely one of the kids that never missed school, regardless of how bad I was feeling any given day,” he recalled. “I owe a lot to them for pushing me and making sure that I stayed with it.”

Holt returned to South Dakota after high school to attend college, where he was able to combine his love of games with his education, but it wasn’t the right fit. After a brief stint in South Dakota, Holt transferred to AV in the spring of 2008, where he studied drafting and animation, as well as architecture and civil engineering.

The degree path allowed Holt to explore his love of games and world-building. He remained at AV, earning his Bachelor of Science in Animation Technology in 2011 with aspirations to become a movie and game developer. He later received his master’s in Adult and Lifelong Learning from the University of Arkansas.

Main Story: Students First

As Holt reflected on graduating from AV and what happened next, he said, “I loved the campus; I loved the people. When I was a student, I had a good working relationship with my instructors, now they’re my colleagues.”

After earning his degree, Holt was offered a part-time teaching job as an adjunct professor.

“I was apparently good enough that they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, this guy will be good,’” he said. “I discovered I loved it and stayed. I’ve been teaching (full-time) since spring 2012.”

Twelve years later, Holt continues his work teaching at AV. He is a senior instructor in the College of Business and Industry, teaching what he came here to study.

“I may not be out there working at a studio, but I get to help students achieve their dreams of doing what I set out to do originally,” he said proudly. “I enjoy teaching; I figured why not have the best of both worlds.”

Being an educator goes beyond teaching concepts and theories. As an instructor, part of Holt’s responsibility is to get to know his students. By doing so, Holt has learned how to recognize a student's potential – in terms of their potential to succeed and their potential to need support.

Holt prides himself on being able to see when a student may be struggling and needing help. If he can provide the assistance himself, Holt does so, but he also sees the importance of guiding a student to the support AV can offer. The time Holt has spent at AV as a student and educator has provided him with a toolbox of support at his disposal.

Side Quest: Coaching

Within the last three years, Holt has increased the scope of his work at AV. Holt and Dr. Nicki Stancil, associate professor and the director of media communication, have worked since the summer of 2021 to bring one of the world’s fastest-growing sports to AV: eSports.

Ask anyone, and the answer will be the same: the Digital Lions are more than just a video game club.

One of the first things Holt and Stancil wanted to emphasize when creating the team was that the players are all students first. All team members are required to maintain a minimum GPA of 2.75.

Since the inception of AV eSports, the team has grown to include games like League of Legends, Valorant, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros., and Pokémon. Holt admits he wasn’t familiar with all the games but has grown to love each and is blown away by the players he coaches.

“Every time we turn around, I feel things change just drastically enough that we’re always on our toes,” Holt said. “It’s been awe-inspiring seeing how I can give new perspectives and bring what I’ve learned through work to the program.”

Even with the rapidly evolving landscape of eSports, the Digital Lions team has blossomed into one of the best in the state and nation.

In the fall of 2023, the Digital Lions Valorant Blue team traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, to compete in the Red Bull Campus Clutch Delta Region tournament. The high-stakes LAN, or offline, event put the players from AV head-to-head against collegiate teams from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

“We are not the biggest school in the U.S., so the fact that we make them (opposing teams) stand on their toes against us every time we compete says a lot about what smaller schools can do,” said Holt with a grin.

Holt views the players and teams that makeup Digital Lions as more than just students and gamers. He sees each player as a natural athlete.

“The students have to have the fastest reflexes, not only by hand but in mind as well,” he said. “They have to calculate all the angles and trajectories and get everything ready to go in a second’s notice.”

Hidden Easter Eggs

Getting lost in games is just as easy as getting lost in doing what you love. For Holt, AV has been and continues to be the place that allows him to be fully immersed in his passions.

Holt admitted that the best part of what he does is not teaching students to become the next game designers or coaching a top-tier eSports team. Watching students graduate and succeed in their endeavors after AV makes it all worth it.

“The symbol of them walking means just as much to the instructors as it does to the students and their families,” Holt said.

Watch Cody's Story:

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  • Business and Industry
  • Faculty Voices
  • eSports

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