Esports: Coming to a College Near You

Collegiate Esports (electronic sports) have burst on the scenes of the college environment over the last several years. UW Stout even has a burgeoning department on our campus, and we were able to sit down and talk to the people bringing our institution into the new age of competition!

How It Started -

Esports at Stout began with Kayla Frohmader, a former executive with the People’s Organization of Network Gaming (PONG) and graduate of the Human Development and Family Studies program. The idea of bringing Esports to Stout was something she had imagined for a while as part of PONG, especially participating in LAN tournaments and joking with friends about putting a team together. That idea became more of a reality when it was the forefront of her application to be the very first intern in the Dean of Students’ Office.  When she was ultimately chosen for the position, it was her background and interest in gaming that set her apart from the other applicants. A few weeks into the new position presented the opportunity to begin working on that dream project.

Sorting out the details of that dream project, however, involved a lot of guess work. Kayla was tasked with researching how other universities had created and managed their Esports teams and departments. She went above and beyond in conducting her research and contacted the various departments to bring it all together. Through this, Kayla learned that while a lot of work had already been done in establishing Collegiate Esports, there was much to be desired in terms of how to manage a team, leading to many institutions playing it by ear.

“Because Esports is not yet recognized as a sport by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) other Organizations needed to take the initiative to set up their own rules and regulations for Esports as well as provide informational resources to universities as well as the general public.”

While sorting out these details, Kayla was surprised by how much support she received from administration. She was nervous that the work she was so passionately working on would be pushed aside due to negative stigma surrounding gaming. Instead she was encouraged and given the necessary resources to succeed. Kayla received a lot of her support from then-President of the Stout Student Association, Hannah Bragelman, who was also a Game Design and Computer Science student. “Hannah planted the seed of competitive gaming in the minds of many of the staff. It was that seed that allowed me to be met with enthusiasm, and working with her opened many doors for the program. “

Since Kayla’s graduation in May ,2019, the Esports program was left without a student leader until another PONG executive, Matt Gunderson, joined the team. Due to the hard work put in by his predecessor, his experience with Esports at Stout was a little different. What began as a passion project from within the Dean of Students Office moved to a whole department, which included pay and office space.

Having two people with a strong gaming background behind the scenes was an invaluable asset to the creation of the program.

Putting the Team Together -

Shortly after being hired, Matt saw the Esports program being kicked into overdrive. His office worked with University Marketing to generate an interest from. Overall, they received approximately 200 responses from interested gamers. After opening applications, they contacted everyone who had initially shown interest, printed posters, used digital signage, and utilized our dear Campus Life Today newsletter.

They were casting a wide net in finding their team, using no emphasis on academic major. Stout has a wide-ranging, comprehensive listing of academic programs relating to video games and could have easily instilled a preference for those studying Game Design and Development or Computer Science. In the end, what they mostly cared about was skill in the chosen games, Rocket League, Overwatch, and League of Legends.

At tryouts, they were looking for strong attitudes and good communication skills in addition to gaming. “Players who can keep a level head perform better, and stress makes people not think clearly. They don’t know they aren’t thinking clearly because they aren’t thinking clearly. Making in-game “callouts” to provide information to your team is absolutely necessary for success. More often than not, teams that went silent during a match fell apart.”

Also, something to consider when choosing the right people to play for Stout was the position of players. The similarities between Esports and traditional sports are vast; player rosters are no exception. Much like in Baseball, you seek out pitchers and base players, not general miscellaneous players. In specifically League of Legends, they were looking for Top Lane, Jungle, Mid Lane, Bot Lane, and Support players. In Overwatch, the target was for Tank, Damage, and Support players. Finding the right players for these specific positions was integral for the team, as “a high skill Support in Overwatch might never play Tank, so they would be a poor fit for the position”.

When it comes to the organization of the 29 UW Stout Esports players, there is a Varsity and Junior Varsity team for each of the chosen games. This is because League of Legends and Overwatch being very role-specific games, and need to find substitutes to fulfill multiple roles in game play. Notably, Rocket League has an additional substitute in their rankings due to plans that both teams compete simultaneously.

Rocket League is also notable for not originally being on the docket for UW Stout Esport competition. Local Rocket League Grand Champion, Logan Koneczny, approached Matt with interest about including Rocket League in the program. With three Grand Champions at Stout, there was already a full team of players in the top 0.5% in North America. Rocket League has continued to be a good fit for the program, as Stout’s team placed in the top 20 nationally in the Collegiate Rocket League Spring Showdown.

You can watch the UW Stout Rocket League team compete in both the Fall and Spring through the National Collegiate Rocket League. In the Spring, you can watch them compete in the Collegiate Rocket League. If you’re more interested in watching the Overwatch and League of Legends teams, you can see them compete in the Tespa Overwatch and College League of Legends season in the Spring. All competitions will be taking place in the Stout Library, Room 111, which also houses the Geographic Information Systems program.

Esports At Stout –

As Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, Stout’s mission is effectively emphasized in the development of the Esports program. Kayla describes it as, “a huge hands-on experience. When you look at the program in a larger scope you can see so much possible integration in majors like game design, art, marketing, etc. I would love to see the community of UW Stout come together to embrace the program and utilize all the skills we have collectively to make Esports an integral learning experience.  Those hands-on experiences make UW Stout such a great place to study and this program really ties into that.”

Matt shares this belief as well. “One aspect of the polytechnic designation that has always stuck out to me is that Stout aims to be multi-dimensional. A wide range of technical degrees is a part of being polytechnic (hence the suffix -technic), but I always have put more emphasis on inclusivity in every possible facet. A lot of potential esports athletes are entering competitive, technical programs like CS, CEE, and CNIT as well.”

Esports at Stout is currently being run as a pilot program with a lot of potential for growth and development in the next few years. With the overwhelmingly positive initial reception, you could potentially see the players and teams doubling in size and acquiring their own area space fairly soon. 

Beyond size growth, Kayla sees the becoming more fully integrated in the Stout community. The impact of the program isn’t limited to gaming, as it has inclusive benefits for the entire campus. Stout has a great community in our athletics department, and it’s hard not to be a fan of those Blue Devils. The players on the Stout Esports teams are competitive Blue Devils as well, and there is a lot to celebrate.

Getting Esports recognized within Stout’s engaged athletics’ community will be a steady integration process. There are plans to work with the Stout Student Association, especially with the organization’s Student Life Senators. The program does, however, have strong ties to the gaming community at Stout, especially the People’s Organization of Network Gaming, which hosts the largest LAN events in the state. The program is hoping that working with PONG will encourage their athletes to compete at LANS, which will attract other Esports teams.

 

Final Thoughts -

Esports came out of left field for many of us, especially those who don’t know the difference between a PlayStation and an Xbox. Esports have been around for decades, and they are here to stay. Don’t let that frighten you from getting involved and finding your place in this exciting, competitive, and electronic world.