Snow Esports program to fully launch in fall
By Matt Harris
EPHRAIM—Nathan Hebert, a Snow College student, never came to Snow thinking he would be part of a college team for anything, let alone the “captain” of a brand-new competitive gaming squad.
Hebert’s teammates have named him captain of Snow’s newest addition to the athletics department—the Esports team. The sport is growing quickly since its team status was approved by the Board of Trustees and announced by the department earlier this spring.
What assistant coach Jason Springer called a “grassroots movement” has gained steam over the last three months.
The team now sports a recruited squad of 34 players, assistant coach Landon Peterson said, with 12 players for Overwatch, 10 for League of Legends, six for Hearthstone, and six for Rocket League. As the press release stated back in March, Snow is the first college in the state to house an Esports program within a college athletics department.
“To have the support of the athletic director has been something that is fairly unique in our situation,” Springer said. “A lot of times, this is run out of an academic department or college or run out of student life….pretty innovative and pretty exciting for us.”
The connection with athletics, Springer said, means a lot of good things, primarily immediate financial resources to attain quality team gear, tech and computers, as well as access to space otherwise unavailable. The team has already attained a “practice room” and had equipment shipped in as things continue to be in the setup process. “They’ve been really good partners,” Springer said.
The gaming PC’s sitting in the new room sport high-level tech, including NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 graphics cards, 16 gigabytes of RAM, and I-7 processors clocking in an internet speed of 3.6 gigahertz, according to Peterson. The current plan, Peterson said, is to stick to PC competition until resources and local competition affords the opportunity for expansion.
Snow Esports’ way of giving back to athletics remains something of a question mark, but there are multiple ways the program can prove itself a revenue stream. According to Peterson, there will be immediate potential to stream the team’s performance and competitions through the online gaming spectator platform, Twitch, a service that can be, and often is, monetized and can run advertisements and collect sponsorships.
The most important aspect of the entire program, Springer attested, is the continuing development of interdisciplinary curriculum that will allow members of the team to channel their sport and knowledge into an academic pathway focused on gaming development and technology. This was a big plus for Snow’s athletic director, Robert Nielson.
“[Nielson] actually started this conversation with us,” Peterson said, speaking of the plan to join with athletics. “Rob cares a lot about our students and the opportunities that we give to our students. He really wants our students to have these good opportunities to be competitive, be leaders, learn how to be a good teammate, all of those things that an athletic event can teach you.”
While not yet reported to be part of the program in its first year, Spring and Peterson hope to achieve a level where scholarships can be provided for players on the team within the next three to five years. “When we add the academic component to it,” Springer said, “not only will we be [providing scholarships to] athletes, but really, we will be [providing scholarships to] students who are coming to Snow College to study this thing.”
Recruiting is a different venture than what the athletics department is familiar with. “The interesting part of recruiting these students is finding them,” Peterson said. Esports players aren’t training at the gym, so to speak. Most of what happens in this regard is searching online, looking at gaming statistics and working through tryouts. A good portion of the first varsity squad comes from the gaming club which has been active on campus the last few years, including Hebert.
While familiar with competitive gaming, particularly with Overwatch, a fantasy-based first-person shooter, claiming leadership is blazing new territory for Hebert. “It’s a pretty new experience for me as a team captain and coach for the team,” Hebert said. “There’s a lot of things that I have to learn on my own since Esports is so new. I have found, however, that in general, there are plenty of similarities between normal sports and Esports, and I try to implement some of those same principles into our teams as well.”
Members of Snow’s gaming club, in fact, played an exhibition match earlier this year against the varsity team at Boise State University to test the waters while the creation of the program was still in discussion. Boise State’s Esports program ranks 12th in a poll by BestColleges.com, and the Badgers “beat the pants off of them,” Springer said. “We felt really good about that.”
The status of Snow’s association with any collegiate gaming leagues, such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), remains up in the air. “There are benefits to associating with NACE,” Peterson said. “I think that’s a conversation that we’ll have with [Nielson] as the summer goes on, and then just make a decision.”
Membership fees to be part of NACE start at about $2500 annually. “To be perfectly honest,” Springer said. “We’re sort of asking ourselves, ‘What do we get for that?’”
Primarily during the first season for the Badgers, beginning in the Fall 2019 semester, the schedule will be played on an independent basis, and Springer expects to have competition on the local, national, and even global levels provided through various outlets.
Peterson also said that the Badgers hope to soon not only enter tournaments and make a name for themselves, but also they want to work with athletics to soon host local tournaments and matches that can have live attendance for residents of Sanpete to see and learn more about Snow’s next big thing.
“The thing that excites me the most is being able to gather people who enjoy games and turn them into competitors,” Hebert said. “I’m also very excited to see where we can take this as a team and a school, and it really allows students who wouldn’t necessarily have a chance at regular sports the chance to compete in something that means something to them. It’s really exciting to see where Esports at Snow College will go in the future, as well as where Esports will go as a whole.”