Computer science alumnus forges animated career in virtual gaming, esports
January 9, 2017
Barcelona’s whimsical architecture, characterized by the softly melting towers of the Sagrada Familia cathedral, is a long way from Blacksburg’s distinguished Hokie Stone façades.
But for Virginia Tech alumnus Ron Forbes, a 2007 graduate, jetsetting to international locales like the Cataluña region of Spain is all in a day’s work. As a development manager for Riot Games — the player-focused gaming company behind the wildly popular League of Legends game which has evolved into an esport — Forbes deals in his own brick-and-mortar structures, setting the stages for tournaments and championships of residents of the digital world of esports.
Forbes and his team, who are based in Los Angeles, have been hosting gaming tournaments around the world for six seasons in storied places like Madison Square Garden in New York and the World Cup Soccer Stadium in Seoul. At any given moment it’s estimated that 3 million people are playing League of Legends games, a cadre of champions who log 1 billion hours a month of screen time.
The game, known to fans as LoL, is free to download, but gamers have the option of purchasing gear for their champion players, with very real dollars. It's an industry valued at approximately $1.6 billion in sales.
“I grew up loving video games,” said Forbes, who is a graduate of the Department of Computer Science in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. “My parents would always say that I was zipping through Mario Brothers before I could construct sentences.”
Despite the predilection for video games, Forbes’ parents insisted that he be a strong reader as well. It was this insistence on reading that allowed Forbes to stumble across a BASIC programming book at a young age.
“I caught the programming bug early. These days simple programming is stuff kids learn in elementary school, but back in the day programming was just becoming a blip on the radar of the masses,’’ he said.
While an interest in reading and video games seems self-evident for someone so deeply entrenched in the gaming world, Forbes’ also credits his participation in the Marching Virginians for his ability to excel in his current career staging events— skills that he acquired much like a pixelated warrior in combat amasses treasures and strength points.
“All this planning, all this rehearsing. This is what you were doing in college. All these things matter,” Forbes said of his talent to produce live events by drawing on learned skills as an undergraduate practicing the choreography of marching band shows and leading teams as a drum major. Forbes also cites participation in Student Government Association, Orientation Leadership, and being an active participant in talent shows as activities that bolstered his ability to lead teams.
Recently Forbes' success was recognized with a 2016 Bravo Award from the Chesterfield Foundation Education, an organization that honors distinguished alumni from Chesterfield County high schools in Virginia.
As a guest speaker at his high school alma mater, Forbes talked about dealing with struggles, and spoke about his senior year that was marked by the April 16 tragedy at Virginia Tech.
“That scale of tragedy really forces you to live each day to be content with the gifts that you leave behind,” Forbes said. “I think a lot about why am I here and what I am giving back. Entertaining people and putting smiles on people’s faces is my purpose right now.”
It’s this digital iteration of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) that has helped him achieve his goals.
“We’re all struggling with something. But you get through the tough times if you ask those universal questions about what unifies us as human beings,” said Forbes. “I’m lucky that humility is built into Riot’s values, so we have a common starting point. But as we grow as a company, maintaining and deepening our sense of humility is going to be critical to taking what we do to the next level.”
And it does indeed appear that the next levels — both virtual and in real life — are Forbes’ for the taking.
Written by Amy Loeffler