The Gustavian Weekly

Gustie eSports program to begin this fall: Anonymous grant funds the widely antipicated program - The Gustavian Weekly

By Eamonn McCullough - Staff Writer | September 18, 2020 | Sports & Fitness

During the fall of 2019, Campus Activities conducted a campus-wide survey in order to determine interest in a Gustie eSports program. The results of the survey came back overwhelmingly positive, with 86 percent of the self-selected respondents expressed experience in the concept and an interest in meeting people with similar interests. Following the results, the College received an anonymous grant to make the prospective program a reality.
“The first question was, is there even interest here? So that’s why that initial survey went out last summer… and we had about 400 people respond to that survey, I had some people come into my office and just be really enthusiastic and excited about it,” Assistant Director of Campus Activities Julianne Watterson said.
Watterson was asked by another administrator in the summer of 2019 to begin the process of discerning interest in an official campus eSports organization. She has taken the lead on this project since the funds from the grant became available.
At a time when the fate of on-campus and in-person sporting events is uncertain, this new program has the potential to highlight the gaming community and foster the sense of community that Gustavus athletics are known for.
“Working in the Campus Activities office, one of the things that we are trying to combat all the time is getting students out of their rooms and coming to events… but we also know that there are students who maybe aren’t as likely to come out of their rooms and come to a big event and talk to people they’ve never met before. And we say to students constantly in orientation, ‘get involved, get involved, get involved’… well, what if that is scary for someone? If you are a student who maybe has some fear with that, or if you’re a student who really likes sports or eSports or you really like these certain video games, that’s an amazing opportunity to connect with people,” Watterson said.
“There’s no better time than right now for a student who needs to stay in their room…. To hop on their computer and engage with other students who also like these games. If there’s an interest you have, there is a group here who mimics that interest, who can share that interest with you. I think eSports could be a really big example of that,” Watterson said.
Currently, the College is in the process of buying the necessary equipment for this endeavor, as well as retrofitting a community space and determining the desired experiences of students who have expressed interest.
“Student input is gonna be super important here… So what happens next is that I need to have a good idea of who’s out there and how they want to be involved,” Watterson said.
In an email to the student body sent on Sep. 1, an additional survey was included where students could select a desired “result” of the program from options such as “more engagement with peers who share my gaming interests”, “learning more about online/video games in general”, and “a chance to compete with neighboring schools.” This survey also provided students with the opportunity to identify their games of choice as well as sign up to be a part of a corresponding committee, which would be responsible for event planning and student coaching.
A functional space for the eSports program has already been selected for retrofitting, and the features to turn it into a functional gaming space are well on their way.
“We wanted a space that would allow for us to create a community. So, right now, the Gibbs [Hall] computer lab is where we are going to have our “lab”… I am in the process of ordering some PCs, and Gustavus Technology Services (GTS) is going to help with the wiring, and I think once we have student involvement, which we should gather pretty soon here, we’ll be able to make it more of a homey space,” Watterson said.
With the barriers of interest and finance effectively overcome, the only question that remains is one of interscholastic competition, a question that holds special significance in light of the MIAC’s decision to postpone all competition in physical athletics until Jan. 2021.
“We’re gonna want to offer competitions if students want to do it. Bethany Lutheran… has an outstanding program, and I know they would love to do competitions with us. I also think it’s really important to provide the space of students just to show up and play for fun,” Watterson said.
There is no official regulatory body for eSports (in the sense that the NCAA is the regulatory body for most athletics at Gustavus), which means there’s no concrete structure in place for how schools compete against one another. Additionally, competition can take place in an entirely virtual format, which is especially important as colleges and universities across the country reckon with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The eSports program will provide students with an additional connection to their peers in the absence of in-person campus events, and Watterson hopes for the program to facilitate community inclusion as a future student organization.
“Right now, it’s just a thing that our office… is putting on, and eventually in the next year or couple of years, we would like [it] to eventually be a student org,” Watterson said.
Though no prospective student leaders have been able to comment at the time of this issue’s publication, the potential of an eSports organization holds great promise to allow Gusties to “fight on” virtually, even in the face of social distancing guidelines.

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