Video game team to form at Juniata
College scouting coach to guide, recruit varsity gamers
If all goes according to plan, video games soon will be much more than button mashing at Juniata College, where administrators have announced the formation of a competitive team.
“It’s one of our largest student involvements outside of the classroom,” said Matthew Damschroder, dean of students and vice president of student life.
Beginning this school year, the college is to compete at a club level in the Landmark Conference, the first conferencewide esports — short for electronic sports — tournament at the Division III level, according to an Oct. 1 announcement.
At the same time, college administrators have announced a search for a coach to head a varsity team, Damschroder said.
When hired, that coach will be paid a competitive salary, he said.
“We’re looking for folks who can show that they have experience and success within a particular game,” Damschroder said of the coaching search.
Prospective coaches would be past video gaming professionals or a nationally ranked player capable of leading and identifying talented players, he said.
And as with traditional athletics, a varsity-level esports team would mean recruiting players and developing strategies, likely with scholarships available to strong prospects.
“I think we are looking for a coach to do that work,” Damschroder said about recruiting.
While the idea of a competitive video gaming team may seem odd to old-school sports fans, the popularity of professional gamers has grown in recent years, Damschroder said.
He pointed to the number of people who tuned into the League of Legends video game championship to back his claim.
That number reached 60 million, he said, claiming that crowd was much larger than the 20 million who tuned into the NBA playoffs.
“It isn’t something that sort of exists in the shadows. It isn’t a niche activity,” he said. “The narrative is a little bit different, but the engagement is huge.”
In addition to a coaching salary and scholarships, the team will come with costs, namely high-powered computers and a space to practice and play, Damschroder said.
That’s a price administrators are willing to pay.
“I am pleased and excited at how our students, faculty and staff have partnered to bring esports to Juniata and to our conference,” college President James A. Troha said in a statement. “I look forward to how it will develop here, knowing we have big plans for enrolling students, competing and taking advantage of all the learning opportunities this will create.”
And that also was the attitude of Damschroder, who discouraged dismissive attitudes for competitive gaming.
He said the legitimization of the sport is like taking something “that existed and adding some structure to it.”
“I think we are on the front end of this,” Damschroder said.
That’s because the idea of a competitive team stemmed from an existing club called the Ministry of Games.
“Students are already engaging in something that is fun and challenging,” Damschroder said.
While there is a possibility of eventually competing in multiple games, Juniata College likely will begin with a single game.
That likely will be League of Legends or Overwatch, Damschroder said.
Juniata’s director of student engagement and campus activities, Erin Paschal, said the program is intended to provide opportunities for students to learn life skills.
“Like any other competitive activity … students can have fun while developing resilience, leadership ability, social skills and more,” he said. “We are pleased to have the flexibility to accommodate emerging interests, too.”
Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.