Gaming for Scholarships

E-Sports at Juniata

Piper Blue McGonigle

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E-sports nationally has been quickly populating college campuses, and as of the 2018-2019 academic year, has arrived at Juniata College. While their coach quit after only a couple of days, members of our e-sports team seem happy with the program, which is receiving $15,000 from Juniata College’s Institutional Operation Budget, and is offering e-sports scholarship of up to $2,500. Juniata College is currently investing in an Esports facility, which it is planning to house in the current CTS office in BAC, and will have two different practice rooms, a coach’s office, equipment, computers, and viewing area. They plan to include a varsity team next year.

There had been much interest in the past in creating an e-sports team, especially from the Ministry of Games club. Director of Student Engagement and Campus Activities Erin Paschal said, “There was significant interest both on-campus and from potential students. We’ve had a strong club presence for many years and e-sports events hosted on-campus have had large, enthusiastic attendance. All trends indicate e-sports will only continue to grow nationally and globally.”

Dean of Students Matthew Damschroder had begun conversations last year to see if an e-sports team was a feasible idea. After there was interest shown, a committee was created that explored what was needed to form a team. A recommendation was made to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to start a team in Fall 2018 and that the 20182019 would be a test year. The SLT approved the recommendation during the fall.

Regarding this transition year, Damschroder said, “We have operated at the club level this year within Landmark competition. We had a less formal competition. As we bring in a coach and program administrator, I think that allows us and affords us ability to have more professional approach to give students an athlete experience and would allow us to say we have varsity level engagement for next year.” Damschroder said after SLT approval a work group was then formed that looked at e-sports and its different concern areas. He explained this included “the way e-sports would contribute to our enrollment goals. One was looking at logistics and how it might be implemented. The third one looked at the operational concerns, so enrollment and marketing facilities and structure and operations facilities.”

According to Damschroder, “We had to think critically whether the resources that program would demand were appropriate for the benefits we might gain. I think we had to think about whether our commitment to e-sports was appropriate in comparison to other opportunities that might require resources. We had to look at how it would sit Juniata in comparison to our peers or how absence of the program would situate us differently, giving us an advantage or disadvantage. I think we have to be responsible stewards of both our institution resources, our reputation in the future of the college, and making good and well-informed choices is always one of our primary responsibilities.”

Erin Paschal said that a reason e-sports funding was approved was that “it very much matches our campus culture. Many of our current students play e-sports as a part of the Ministry of Games club and were interested in formalizing their presence on campus.”

Dean of Students Matthew Damschroder expressed hope that e-sports would increase enrollment and Juniata’s reputation. “I hope it creates a space where students who might not have been interested in Juniata are able to do so because it adds an option of engagement for something that is important to them. I hope it creates some awareness in other people’s minds of Juniata and advances our reputation and gives us some breath of exposure through the success and achievements of our athletes and teams.”

Team captain and senior Ambrose Lutwyche helped create the team. He said the team was created after he started playing the game League of Legends with some friends his freshman year. They played in third party leagues the previous two years. They met with the administration at the end of last year to discuss forming an official team.

Ambrose said all the interested students tried out and had “relaxed practices” where the team played together and was assembled. One difficulty in maintaining the team has been organizing a time to meet for all members of the team. “We are all busy students and that means our practices tend to be late at night,” Ambrose explained.

A typical meeting usually consists of a scrimpartner and scrim set up from another school that the team plays. The team then reviews the games and how they could improve. The team also scouts future opponents. Games that are often played include Overwatch, League of Legends, and Super Smash Bros.

Ambrose said that the administration has been very supportive of the program. He said, “Admins support for the program took us by surprise. We are all grateful for the opportunities that we have had, and are a bit jealous of future students who will get to enjoy the full program.”

Juniata is currently in the process of looking for a coach. Kyle McCauley was hired by Juniata to be the coach in September of 2018, but quit after only a few days due to personal reasons. He was reached out to on Twitter and Facebook about why he quit but he did not respond. According to Ambrose, “he had good work experience that reflected his ability to coach a team. He was very professional. I think everyone thought he was a good fit for Juniata.” Ambrose is also on the e-sports committee and the search committee for the program director who would also serve as the coach. He said the process for finding a new coach is halfway done and are inviting candidates for interviews. “We are looking for someone who can coach players in a game, organize practices and tournaments, as well as recruit students for the team, both inside and outside the college.”

Students who are in e-sports have various reasons for why they like it. Ambrose is very passionate about e-sports and the value it provides to students. “There should be space made for people who want to play video games in a competitive setting. I have made a lot of friends that I intend to have for a long time. A lot of the arguments for the benefits of traditional sports, you can have for e-sports.”

Sophomore Colin Seig said that, “I enjoy it because it provides me a place with people I enjoy and be in place with people who challenge myself.”

The team also has roles students in charge of other roles like advertising and casting the games. Sophomore Ace Simek helps with advertising for the team. This includes “making posters, keeping track of the schedule, [and] making online announcements.” Ace also mentioned that an e-sports twitter account is being created and will be up and running by next semester and possibly by the summer. Additionally, Ace is working on infographics to explain the basic concept of League of Legends.

Seniors Cian Kelly and Nick Irvine as involved in the casting of the games. Casting involves explaining the game, what happened at the last tournament and updates to the game as well as what they think is going to happen at the game. Irvine has previously played League of Legends and was on the club team. Kelly started played League of Legends his freshman year and was in the same dormitory as a lot of the seniors on the team. Irvine said he likes e-sports because “it’s great to play and watch. It’s really interesting. It holds my attention better than most physical sports.” Kelly said that he knows a lot of people who are interested in video games, and said “it’s a cool thing to see students at your college compete in the games that you play.”

At some schools, such as Albright College, e-sports is considered a varsity athletic program. The program has the same athletic and gym requirements as the other sports at the school. The Comcast Spectacor announced that it was building a $50 million Esports arena in Philadelphia (Vasil).

E-sports is not currently part of the NCCA, but 40 colleges in 2016 created varsity programs that have a head coach, staff members, an esports arena and are treated like a normal sports program. The NCCA is currently looking into incorporating e-sports into an official college sport (Schonbrun).

Robert Illinois University was one of the first universities to develop an e-sports varsity program. Players had uniforms and post-game meals together, similar to other sports teams. The arenas at the university consist of complex computer labs with PCs for gaming (Wolf).

Despite e-sports growing popularity, it has been criticized by some as not being worthy of receiving attention and being on networks like ESPN, and that more attention should be paid to traditional sports. When the Juniata Facebook page announced the hiring of the e-sports coach, some alumni commented that the program was a waste of time and that the resources for e-sports should be spent to bring back the wrestling program.

However, defenders of e-sports have said that gaming takes skill and talent that is worthy of admiration. They point to e-sports competitions in sports stadiums that were completely filled up as proof of its increasing popularity. They also say that e-sports is a good way for students to make friends with people they share a similar interest with. It also allows students to feel school pride in something when they might not feel pride in the sports programs.

Ambrose responded to the criticism said that the reason resources aren’t being used for a wrestling team “because there isn’t a high desire for it. There isn’t a club for it as there is for other club sports. I think there are more students who are interested in playing e-sports on campus as a sport and pastime. It embraces new and diverse students who come in and is overall more popular.”

The Juniata e-sports team participates in the Landmark Conference and went 4-1 against the other teams in the conference. It recently earned the Number 1 spot in the 4 team playoffs. The team beat Elizabethown 2-0, but lost to Drew University in the Finals. There is also a B team, which plays Super Smash Brothers but has unfortunately lost every game.

Damschroder said that his hopes for the program are that it allows students to have “an interest and passion in Esports and be able to fully realize it, in addition to their studies” and that“it adds to the climate and culture of the campus in a positive way.”