The vision for varsity encompasses much more than people gaming on Cybertron Computers and wearing a Logitech Headset.
While gaming success is important, the program is also seen as way to provide extra-curricular activity and applied learning for students in disciplines across campus.
Travis Yang, hired in December as WSU’s Esports director, wants to build a program that follows that direction. As esports grows in popularity, the program is also a recruiting tool for high school students – Wichita Public Schools offer an esports program at the middle and high school levels.
“It was really cool in the interview process to hear him talk about his vision for what an esports program can be, because it really aligned one-to-one with things we were already talking about,” said Clay Stoldt, interim dean of the College of Applied Studies. “Esports is a lot more than just the varsity competition. Esports is a big part of student life. It can contribute to the student experience for a ton of our students. He had already grasped that vision.”
Yang, 26, came to Wichita State after serving as esports coach at Texas A&M-San Antonio, the first esports program in the Texas A&M system. From 2018-20, he worked as the assistant coach at Ashland University. Yang grew up in Wichita and around the university, where Wan Yang, his father, taught geology.
“What really caught my eye is (Wichita State’s) commitment at the institutional level,” Travis Yang said. “There’s buy-in across the campus. There’s interest and support and funding from colleges, from academic affairs, from student affairs and from student government. When they were talking about that and describing it to me, I was like, ‘Wow, this is completely different than anything I’ve had to deal with.’”
Wichita State’s facilities in the Heskett Center – the esports varsity office and the Esports Hub (open to all students) – impressed Yang. Stoldt said scholarships for the varsity team will be offered next school year, a first for the program that launched in 2019.
Yang said the move to bring varsity esports into the College of Applied Studies is important because it reflects the desire to highlight the interdisciplinary aspect of the program. The College of Applied Studies is home to majors such as education and sport management, which apply to building an esports team. The esports team includes broadcasters, content specialists and other students who help run the program.
“Our students are spread across all of the colleges,” Yang said. “Esports should be interdisciplinary. It should be reflected in our students, and it should be reflected in how we work across campus.”
Shocker Esports sponsor five varsity teams: League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros and Valorant. It participates in intercollegiate play through TESPA, Collegiate Star League, AVGL, uLOL, EGF and other tournament providers.
There are 30 varsity athletes and around 15 students who work as staff members, just as a basketball or baseball team has students on staff to help with social media, practices, statistics and operations.
When Stoldt looks at the team and staff roster, he sees sport management majors, in addition to students studying video game design, computer science or engineering.
“It’s really a hub where multiple colleges and their academic programming can connect,” he said. “We want to encourage those students to pursue those interests while also having the opportunity for applied learning.”