UM-Flint is Entering the World of Collegiate eSports Competition

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UM-Flint is joining the world of collegiate eSports in a big way.

By the fall of 2020, UM-Flint will host its very own eSports team, creating a new opportunity for students to get involved on campus and potentially attracting new ones.

eSports is a form of competition that takes place through video games. Teams or individuals can compete against other contestants either in-person or online, allowing for the competition from around the world. Groups will often field multiple teams in the same competitions to increase their chances of winning.

Some of the most popular games used in these competitions include “Super Smash Bros.”, “League of Legends” and “Call of Duty.” Many players have spent their lives holding controllers and tapping away at keyboards–the competition can be fierce. 

eSports has been steadily growing over recent years. According to Reuters, in 2019, the industry saw over $1.1 billion in revenue, up 27% since last year. By 2023, revenues are expected to exceed $1.5 billion. Prize money for winning in these competitions can be in the thousands or even millions of dollars, with just as many people across the world tuning in.

With such a large potential for returns on investment, universities across the country have begun forming their own eSports teams. Some universities even offer scholarships to attract the best players. According to edsurge.com, schools have staked millions of dollars into their eSports programs. Full Sail University in Florida has invested $6 million into building a state-of-the-art facility.

The formation of the organization is being headed by Jason Gooding, a staff member in ITS. An avid video game player himself, Gooding looked into some of the ways the university could attract and retain students through non-traditional means. He found that eSports could help solve that problem.

“We are potentially missing out on students, whether it’s retention or new students … trying to think of new areas to go that’d be outside of the box of the general education package, giving those students another outlet,” said Gooding.

Falling enrollment has become a key issue for administration at UM-Flint as attendance has steadily decreased since its all-time high in 2014. 

“It is our hope prospective students will see eSports as an added benefit to choosing UM-Flint,” said Kristi Hottenstein, PhD, vice chancellor for enrollment management at UM-Flint. 

Retention is another aspect Gooding and Hottenstein have considered. According to them, if a club or activity such as eSports is offered, it may keep students more interested in staying at UM-Flint. 

“Research indicates that students who are engaged on campus and have a sense of belonging are more likely to stay,” said Hottenstein.

Other schools in Michigan have begun forming their own eSports teams. Eastern Michigan University formed their own team in 2014 and Western Michigan University in 2018. UM-Flint will become the first school in the University of Michigan system to form their own.

While looking into what a team at UM-Flint could be, Gooding worked closely with WMU, who’s team consists of 75 students that compete in their own 190-person arena, complete with state-of-the-art sound and light equipment. 

“Statewide it is growing fast, many colleges that may not have had a program are building them this year and making space available to their students. It has become an exciting student culture at WMU, giving students an opportunity to build a community out of something they enjoy doing,” said Scott Puckett, head of the eSports team at WMU.

After working for nearly a year on getting approval to form the team, Gooding was able to secure a $125,000 investment from UM-Flint. The money will help pay for equipment, such as buying 20 new PCs and headsets and renovating a space to accommodate the team. 

Gooding hopes to save money on facility costs by trying to work in existing spaces that could meet the demands of intensive computer use, such as one of the campus’ computer labs. 

Gooding is also looking into receiving additional funding and help with obtaining equipment through sponsorships, either from local businesses or national brands such as Alienware or Dell. Eventually, he would like to see the team become successful enough so that winnings from tournaments could fully fund them alone.

The team will not be considered a traditional club sport on campus like hockey or soccer, which is actually an advantage for Gooding. “Right now it’s its own entity of a team, which gives us a little bit more leeway on sponsorships and branding and how we do the recruiting,” said Gooding.

Additional aspects of the team go beyond just gaming. As Gooding explained, there are a variety of benefits those who are not even interested in video games can obtain. 

“It’s like it’s the entire package. I was trying to be inclusive with every department on campus I could. And student wise, I see the potential of areas you may not think are even involved in these sports,” said Gooding.

Some of these areas of interest Gooding gives as examples include occupational and physical therapy students examining the effects of sitting for long periods of time on the human body. Another example is marketing students helping gain sponsors and managing the team’s social media. 

Students working in computer science or communication will also be needed to help in setting up equipment, lights and audio if the team ever decides to host large events or stream online, something Gooding hopes will happen. 

While the exact details of how the organization will be structured are not yet fully formed, Gooding said members will be able to dictate which games they would like to play and how individual teams will be formed. 

eSports will be open to anyone who would like to join, highlighting the diversity that video games can foster. “And part of the inclusion is that … the whole virtual world, it doesn’t matter your … age, sex, religion, if you have a handicap, if you have whatever it may be, it can be totally inclusive and making sure that this reaches out to all groups on campus,” said Gooding.

As of right now, there is no cost to join and the team is expected to be fully formed by fall of 2020. Gooding said he’s already had over 30 students contact him who are interested in joining, showing there is support for eSports at UM-Flint.

For anyone who is interested, contact Gooding at [email protected]