Tyler Levesque is Wichita State’s coordinator of Esports and he is charged with building the varsity program after his hiring in early January.
The Esports offices in Heskett Center are under construction. The former home of the sport management program is largely empty, the walls gray and bare and desks and chairs outdated. Soon, new chairs, computers, monitors and headsets will fill the room.
“This semester is all about jumping in and making something happen,” he said. “We’re doing it.”
Esports is organized video game competition, often with multiple players representing teams.
Levesque, who earned his master’s degree in sport management at Wichita State, said the varsity program grew out of a thriving club on campus. Schools such as Boise State, Georgia, North Texas and more than 100 more compete in the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
“There’s a scene on campus that’s very large and students are actively participating and competing in these games,” he said.
Wichita State will start its varsity program with seven students competing in Overwatch and four on the Rocket League team.
“They compete at a very high level,” Levesque said. “And they compete in a way that a casual gamer can’t do. And just like a basketball player can shoot a certain way, these players can shoot a certain way, as well. There was such a developed scene on campus already where there were teams already in place that were very good. I was looking at that and saying ‘Ok, I know we would be competitive right out of the gate.’”
Why is Wichita State starting a varsity team?
We already have a large, organized (club) presence on campus. Let’s take this to the next level, which a lot of other schools have done.
It’s very important that we did this now. If you do this two years from now, you kind of miss the boat.
We have local high schools that are reaching out to us, looking to partner with us. You have that element of this is a new varsity program on campus, this is something students have been looking for and asking for. They’re all very excited to have a scene like this on campus.
I’m trying to serve as the organizing space in which we really start to get them some competing and really giving this some validity.
How is Esports competition structured?
This semester, the Overwatch team will compete through Tespa, which is housed under NACE, the National Association of Collegiate Esports. We’re a part of the Varsity tournament and the National League tournament. They have two concurrent tournaments running throughout the spring semester. We’re going to be competing other schools.
Both of these titles (Overwatch and Rocket League) will be competing in different leagues throughout the semester against different schools.
How does a varsity Esports team fit with academics and applied learning?
There’s so much more than students coming in here and playing on the computer. There’s going to be academic elements. There’s going to be classes taught around this. There will be internship opportunities. Students will have the opportunity to cast, do graphic design.
The thing that excites me most for what we have going on in this space is the opportunity for students. There’s an element of taking classes. There’s an element of competing. There’s an element of identity that it gives them on campus. This adds this varsity element to it where it takes you to the next level. I think for Wichita State to recognize and then to move forward on, it’s very forward for them to see that and then to act on it.
We are offering a course called “Introduction to Esports.” It falls under the sport management department. We cover all elements from how to put together a computer to event management to casting to graphic design. Every kind of element that makes up Esports is incorporated in that class.
You still need to major in something. If Esports is what you’re interested in, let’s find out what section of Esports you’re interested in and get you on that degree path. If that’s the actual programming and game design to the media arts to graphic design to event management . . . that’s where the academic hub and academic front door come in.
Why has Esports grown into this more organized atmosphere?
It’s one of the most popular underground industries I’ve ever seen. The owner of the (Cleveland) Cavaliers is invested in the space. There’s Shaquille O’Neal, who is invested in the space. Rick Fox owns a professional Esports teams. There are four different professional Esports franchises based in Texas alone.
Students have seen this and they say, ‘We want to play video games, but we also want to go to school.’ The industry is a massive industry, and it’s growing at such a rapid pace, you can’t ignore it.