Football and basketball players aren’t the only students who can lay claim to the title of "student athlete" anymore; it now includes esports players. The increasingly popular video game competitions are coming to the University of Montana this fall.
The recruitment process is underway for the esports team, which will include varsity, junior varsity and some developmental teams. They will compete in games such as “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Fortnite,” “Apex Legends” and possibly “Rocket League.”
There is some wiggle room when it comes to what games are played, depending on student interest, but Esports Director Michael Cassens said the University wants to avoid first-person shooters and games with realistic violence.
UM’s administration, the School of Media Arts and the Mansfield library has been supportive of the new program, which has been funded almost entirely with donations. Multiple partial and full scholarships for esport athletes will be available starting in the fall of 2020.
Esports athletes will train on the first floor of the library once the training room is completed. The room will be low-lit, with a large monitor on one wall and a dozen sets of color-changing, high-end MSI gaming equipment. Cassens is also hoping to deck out the room with height-adjustable tables and gaming chairs that won’t leave players with chronic back pain.
Athlete health is a priority to Cassens. He hopes to bring in students and professionals from several different health fields to work with the athletes so they can be mentally and physically “on top of their game.”
Alongside the athletes, the coaches, Cale Patenaude and James Stauder, will spend time in the training room strategizing and practicing. They are both former players, and according to Cassens, they know the games well.
Competitions can be watched in person or through the team’s twitch stream live or after competitions. Competitions will temporarily be held in the University Center Theater until development is finished on a new competitive arena. The arena is slated to be in the UC, next to the Innovation Factory.
Cassens hopes to make the whole program student-centric by bringing in student interns for things like broadcasting and designing the arena. “This is something that’s real,” he said. “It’s happening, and it’s a place where you can be involved on so many different levels and not even be a player, you know what I mean. And I think that’s what I think is really wonderful about it.”