Wichita State’s Esports director Courtney Calder played soccer more often than video games growing up in California.
Those experiences, however, helped prepare her for running the esports program, as did her time working in sales for Apple after graduating from Northwestern University. Wichita State’s varsity program, housed in the Heskett Center, offers four teams competing in Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, and Valorant.
“It’s basically an athletic department, and we have four different sports,” Calder said. “These are student-athletes that we work with. It’s an amazing opportunity to go to work with them.”
Calder, who earned her master’s degree in sport management at Wichita State in 2020, is entering her second year in charge of the program. In May 2020, she replaced Tyler Levesque, who helped start the program in January 2019. Calder and student assistant Joe Mazzara lead a group of 26 competitors, plus students who serve as team managers and handle social media.
“My background in sales and business (with Apple) has been really the key driver for me as to how I felt comfortable,” she said. “And then I have an amazing supportive student team. (Joe) has been a north star of information when I first started. It’s been a great team effort.”
Wichita State moved to the Electronic Gaming Federation and added two rosters with Calder’s direction, Mazzara said. The move to the EGF, he said, links the program with universities such as Cincinnati, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgetown and Texas-Arlington. Calder is also working on connecting the program with local charities.
“We want to be playing against schools that people will recognize,” Mazzara said. “The competition level has more parity and also some name recognition.”
Calder moved to Wichita from California because of the reputation of WSU’s sport management program. She started with the esports program as a graduate assistant and moved to full-time after Levesque’s departure. The varsity program operates out of its own offices and gaming room. It also uses the Esports Hub, which is also open to students, faculty and staff during Heskett Center hours.
Working with esports allows Calder to use skills developed as a soccer coach and in the sport management program. Running and building an Esports team, she said, are similar to any athletic team.
“It’s giving students an opportunity to go to college and do something they love,” she said. “How do we give a student a place to belong and a place to grow and excel and still do something they love and get that education? Esports is a huge piece of that.”
The varsity team practices twice a week and has one video review session and one physical training session each week.
“The big thing (Calder) brought to the program is a really strong sense of leadership,” Mazzara said. “We have a much more structured schedule for the players. She is working really hard to push the program forward.”
The students will also take training on aspects such as health and wellness and deescalating conflicts. As esports grows in Kansas high schools, she wants to build more connections with those programs.
“They’re going to be complete student-athletes when they go through this program,” she said. “We don’t create professional athletes, we create professional humans. Whether they’re in business or engineering or they’re theater majors – they’re going to do something else when they leave here.”