Gaming to greatness: Boise State’s Esports program among the best in the nation

Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

Boise State’s Esports team is coming off the heels of a record-breaking 1,000 wins for a Division I program, multiple championships and a brand new renovated arena — making the program one of the most prestigious in the nation.

Starting in 2017, the Broncos’ Esports team crushed any expectations that could have been conceived at the time. According to Dr. Chris “Doc” Haskell, head coach of Boise State Esports, the program has won four national championships and brought in over 1,100 wins during its short history.

Back in November, the team was voted the collegiate program of the year at the 2022 Tempest Awards.

Haskell was one of the program’s founders, which started in the College of Education before eventually moving over to the College of Innovation and Design. Haskel is hopeful that they’ll land with athletics in the future.

“If you think about it, we’re a television station with an Esports team. We have a lot of assets that organizations like athletics need,” Haskell said. “They need to sell broadcast time. We have between 3 and 5 million unique households a month watching our content, both with Twitch distribution and essentially new cable distribution.”

By new cable distribution, Haskell is referring to their airtime on ESTV, where he says Boise State’s Esports team represents about a sixth of ESTV’s overall content. 

“That’s in half a billion homes, people tuning into esports. Hundreds of thousand of people tuning into one broadcast,” Haskell said.

Regular broadcasts are one of the ways the program is able to be fully self-supported, as they don’t receive any budget dollars from the university. Their largest donors include ICCU and the Army National Guard. They raise everything they spend, including salaries, travel, equipment upkeep and scholarships. The budget this past year was around $500,000, according to Haskell.

Boise State Esports Information Director Jacob Palmer graduated from Boise State in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Arts. He took a class with Dr. Haskel, where he cultivated a relationship with the now head coach. Palmer has been with the program since it started in 2017, eventually working his way to his current position. 

Palmer said that the first priority of the program is to help students in their education and in getting their degrees. In addition to exceptional play, students are required to obtain their degree in order to be added to the wall of fame located in the arena.

Palmer credits the program’s enormous success to their team culture and Boise State being one of the first universities to start an official Esports varsity program where students can earn scholarships. 

[Photo of the Boise State Esports Arena.]
Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

“Starting early in the scene allowed us to really make a name for ourselves. We could get to a lot of tournaments now that we have six years of competition behind us,” Palmer said. “We’re very big on maintaining a good team culture here. We don’t want to blame others, we don’t want to complain, we don’t want to deflect.”

The program’s team culture has helped create a winning one, with the program becoming a force in the Mountain West and in national tournaments.

Boise State business graduate and former varsity Madden player Macey Williams boasted a 21-1 record and won multiple tournaments. 

Haskel told The Arbiter that one of the best Madden high school players in the nation, “Dez” is committing to Boise State on letter of intent day, Feb. 1. 

“He’s going to do the collegiate side and the professional side, which you can do.” Haskel said.

Last spring, Boise State won the Mountain West Championship in Valerant, Rocket League and Overwatch. In December 2022, they won the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) national championship in Overwatch, 3-0, against the UT Dallas Comets in Philadelphia.

Another prestigious tournament the Broncos have qualified for throughout the last two semesters is the Collegiate Rocket League (CRL) tournament, put on by the game developer Psyonix.

“It’s very high competition. You have to qualify for it every year,” Palmer said. “Only the top teams are usually allowed in, so to just qualify for the event is considered an honor in and of itself.”

Gabriel “Gil” Reynolds is a sophomore studying computer science at Boise State who was recruited from Minnesota and plays for the varsity Rocket League team. Last semester, Reynolds helped lead the Broncos to a perfect 15-0 record in the Mountain West tournament, capping the season off with a 4-0 sweep in their second straight Rocket League Mountain West Championship. 

“This is my fourth semester. I made it [to the CRL national tournament] for the first time my second semester, we qualified again this and last semester, so being able to go three out of four. It’s always a privilege to be able to play in big leagues like that,” Reynolds said. “I’m a big grinder, play a lot, so it’s nice to see the work pay off in that way.”

This fall semester, Reynolds and the Broncos’ Rocket League team finished the regular season 13-2, currently ranking third in the CRL western division. Maintaining that position by the end of the Spring semester could help them qualify for the 2023 international CRL tournament this summer. 

If students want to get involved with the Boise State Esports community, Palmer said the first step would be for students to realize there’s a downtown facility open to all students to arrange community events or simply play whatever game their systems have. 

“This is as much a part of the university as the library would be,” Palmer said. “Just students knowing they can hop on the orange shuttle here downtown, come here during weekdays and play anytime they want. That’s just a great resource for students to take advantage of.” 

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