Boise State announced on August 30th they would be adding a varsity Esports program to the school’s competitive repertoire. Esports is a growing trend that has reached competitive popularity in colleges within the last few years. The games currently available to play at the college level are League of Legends, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and Rocket League.
Boise State’s announcement makes them one of the four Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools to have an organized official varsity team. Boise State’s push to be on the forefront of Esports is a product of the vision of two professors on campus who have been working on the project for six months.
Education Technology Department Head Brett Shelton, and Education Technology Professor Chris Haskell started this project in the belief that this up-and-coming trend would be an excellent way to help educate students in new ways at Boise State.
Among the five games being offered on campus, League of Legends has the largest following. League of Legends is normally played with two teams competing against each other in teams of five.
“Boise State’s League of Legends Facebook group currently has around 215 people,” said the current Acting President of the League of Legends team Paul Vaughan. “Applicants for the team are flying in.” Though there are many students interested in the Esport, “People in the club want the best possible team, and understand that not everyone will be chosen.” Though Vaughan, an information technology management major, was happy with the list of games announced, he sees some games with plenty of campus interest missing from the list. “I was surprised that Super Smash Brothers isn’t an Esport.”
According to Vaughan, one thing that makes Super Smash Brothers different than the games on the tournament platforms is its lack of a PC version, which makes the others more accessible.
The starting of an intensive program like this demands having faculty coordinators to be a liaison between the university and the outside world.
In the case of Boise State, this started as an idea between Haskell and Shelton.The team has gone to the administration to pitch their idea, going to PAX Sports West—the Penny arcade exhibit to do guest panels about Esports on college campuses—and lastly working on a published book discussing the incorporation of Esports within academia. The two professors have just begun working out all of the ideas they have envisioned.
“We’re planning to compete this fall in competitive tournaments,” said Shelton. “We’re initiating what we call blue turf thinking, not only just to participate, but to win. Good performances could help supply and fund scholarships for athletes.” Though winning is admirable, the coordinators see other ways to foster a good environment.
“We hope to support students at all levels. We could see even making a push to have intramural teams on campus,” Shelton said. Shelton looks to a college campus like UC Irvine and admires the astonishing Esports complex they have, that’s one of his long-term goals.
“What Boise State does well is foster and develop programs that are interesting and important to the community,” Shelton said. Currently the program is supported by the College of Education and the College of Innovation and Design.
As of the time this article was published, the program had received over 160 applications of students wanting to participate in various forms such as playing, sports casting and making podcasts charting the process.