FEED issue 31 Web

32 ESPORTS FOCUS University Esports

Words by Neal Romanek

University esports is becoming a new, thrilling addition to intercollegiate competition. Will it become big business too?

builds top gaming talent from around the world, and the Community Club for Maryville students, which emphasises the social angle of gaming and includes teams for CS:GO, Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League. Jordan Ousley is Maryville’s director of media for esports. Soon after receiving his degree in film from Missouri State University in 2015, he accompanied a friend to a Halo event in St Louis hoping to shoot material for his portfolio. The networking at that event led to a string of jobs shooting esports events and ultimately meeting John DeHart, director of marketing at the newly launched eUnited Esports, which fields teams in Rocket League, CS:GO and Smite. “For two years, I was the videographer for eUnited,” says Ousley. “I went to every event around the world that the teams were competing in, filming documentary- style esports videos following the teams’ progression. We had an editor based in the UK I would send the footage to put it together.” One of eUnited’s general managers, Dan Clark, was involved with Maryville University and its burgeoning esports programme. Despite its escalating prominence, Ousley was surprised to see that there was little content being built around the Maryville team. In fact, university esports nationwide seemed to be missing opportunities to build content and awareness.

generation ago, that big jock on campus was likely to be a broad-shouldered Achilles of the astroturf, soaking up the

adulation of the homecoming crowds with thrilling displays of athletic prowess. But the collegiate übermensch of yesteryear may be in his twilight. Move over, Biff, the e-athletes are coming! Once it was clear that esports was not going away as a massively popular global entertainment, and that it was making huge sums of money, it was only a matter of time before the education industry – particularly that in the US, which has always relied on sports as a way to attract students and a way to make money – established esports programmes. The gaming community has always been quick to see opportunities and capitalise on them, and a few smart universities have followed the same path and used esports to make a name for themselves. Until recently, Maryville University in St Louis, Missouri had been known as a respectable liberal arts college with a fairly local student body. In a few years, however, it has shot to the top of American universities for esports, with a three-time national champion League of Legends team and a top-four nationally ranked Overwatch team. The Maryville esports programme is divided into the Varsity Program, which

“I realised that there was just no real content or branding around these teams. They just kind of existed. Maryville was already one of the best collegiate teams in the country, but there was no content being put out around them,” he explains. Clark got Ousley an interview with the university and, after describing to the faculty that esports needed the same media boost as physical sports, was brought on as director of media. In the past year, as Ousley has been developing video at Maryville, he has seen a similar uptick in content production across the other big esports programmes. Maryville is trying to position itself to be a feeder school for top professional esports teams, particularly League of Legends, and media is a key part of raising awareness – both for incoming students and for boosting the profile of its athletes.

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