Alumni rising: Dream job in video games started at UW-Green Bay

Young alumnus Ben Kvalo works in video-gaming paradise. He is the operations coordinator for 2K games out of California.

2K is huge. The video-gaming software developer and publisher’s ownership company, Take-Two Interactive, was ranked the number one video game publisher in the world for 2012, according to Metacritic, the industries major ratings website.

2K’s most popular and famous games are Borderlands 1 & 2, BioShock 1 & 2, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the Civilization series and the MLB 2K and NBA 2K franchises. 2K develops and publishes games for console systems, handheld systems and personal computers including smartphones and tablets. Its games include first-person shooters, action, role-playing, strategy, sports, casual and family entertainment titles.

So, how did a business administration major from Portage, Wisconsin end up in a fast-paced tech company so quickly? Immediately upon graduating in 2010 he held to the sage advice of his former faculty member Prof. Lucy Arendt, “Your dream job is out there. Someone has to do it, why not you?”

While he worked in radio immediately after graduation, he knew his passion was elsewhere. In fact, a recruiter listed on LinkedIn directed him right to it.

“I saw a recruiter for 2K on LinkedIn and, being a seasoned gamer, I knew 2K was a big deal in the video game world,” he said. “I sent in my resume and a recruiter called me the next day. They said they were looking to expand their operations team for the publishing end of the business.”

Although 2K was searching for someone with more experience for a newly created operations coordinator position, they flew Kvalo in for an interview.

“I think I nailed the interview,” he said. “They saw my ambition. I told them I want to be a president or CEO of a large tech company someday. I think they also recognized that I could communicate effectively and relate to everyone in the company. I was a good fit for the culture.”

They offered him the job, he said, “yes,” and it’s been a match made in cyber space ever since.

What’s not to like? At first his role was to travel the nation helping with conventions and learning about the company. He also got to play the games few outside the company had ever seen or heard about. One that he held over his gaming friends was Borderlands 2, which released in September of 2012.

Not bad for a guy who started like most gamers with a couch, a console, a controller and best friends named “Mario,” “Zelda” and “Madden.”

“The best thing is to remind my dad of all the times he said something like, ‘why are you wasting your time playing games, video games won’t get you anywhere in life,’” Kvalo joked.

Kvalo’s main responsibilities are to oversee that all projects run smoothly at 2K. In any given day he could work with personnel from the producers, to finance, to marketing, to the company COO or president.

“My number one job — and one that he admits to being prepared for well at UW-Green Bay — is to be a problem solver. My main responsibilities are with the producers and the publishing group, ensuring that the projects run smoothly. It’s kind of like the oil that makes the engine run. “

Kvalo believes it was the opportunities that he maximized while he was at UW-Green Bay that impressed the recruiters, particularly rebuilding the WGBX radio station. When he teamed up with Jason Habeck as joint station managers in 2007, the station grew from a broom closet to a new radio booth in the basement of the University Union with new equipment, nearly 50 DJs, award-winning programming and a massive increase in listenership.

The Portage High School graduate definitely blazed his own trail, heading to UW-Green Bay instead of UW-Madison, where he would have been the fourth generation in his family to attend.

“Although I’d say I would have been characterized out of high school as pretty shy, I wanted to experience something different. I had a lot of guidance from Profs. Arendt and Tim Meyer, and Jen Jones from Admissions had a huge impact on me, encouraging me to step outside myself in the role of a tour guide.

“UWGB allowed me to challenge the system a bit. I think it was all part of the awesome experience I had here, and I had a blast doing what I did. It gave me the freedom to do things like creating and building a radio station, and not get lost in the shuffle. I don’t think I would have had these opportunities elsewhere.”

And now, he wants to do more. This is part of the reason he returned to campus when visiting Wisconsin in February, taking part in an alumni event that helped mentor current students, and sharing his story for a larger public.

“If I can encourage students to explore their passion, and live their dream, that’s what I want to do,” he says. “If I can be a mentor in the games industry to UWGB students, that’s what I’m here for. That’s one thing about a lot of tech jobs, especially in publishing or with a start-up… they don’t require a specific major. I tell current students, ‘I am fueled off of people telling me what I can’t do. I now work in the video games industry, which no one, not even my father, thought I could do. I have a high ambition level and I love to prove people wrong.’”

Eventually, Kvalo — “young Ben” — as his co-workers like to refer to him, wants to run his own tech/video game company.

And as Prof. Arendt would likely say, “What’s stopping him?”

Follow Ben on Twitter @BenKvalo.