KALAMAZOO, Mich.—It may involve virtual worlds, but the impact of esports is very real: It's a billion-dollar industry hosting tournaments with bigger audiences than the World Series. And Western Michigan University is ramping up its esports presence, adding a trio of competitive teams to its roster.
"I'm very excited about it! Our esports club is in a good place; it's time to take the program to that next level," says Andre Rattray, assistant director of club sports and esports.
"I've talked to some other directors of esports programs from around the state and it's a very bullish atmosphere," adds Zach Fagerlin, a third-year civil engineering student from Rockford, Michigan, who has been part of Western's Esports @ WMU club since January 2020. "Everyone thinks it's the next thing up, and I'm right there with them."
Western's varsity esports teams will represent the University in Overwatch, Rocket League and Valorant competitions in the Mid-American Conference's (MAC) Esports Collegiate Conference (ESC), which is currently in its inaugural year. The new competitive esports teams are not affiliated with Bronco Athletics and will instead be supported by University Recreation. The Esports @ WMU club will remain active for students interested in playing both competitively and recreationally.
"It'll be a fully funded program through the department, which is very exciting. The club team is student-run and members have to pay dues, so this will ease that burden for members who qualify for the varsity team," Rattray says, adding there are currently no student scholarships associated with esports. With the backing of University Recreation, however, he was able to hire three coaches to help guide strategy and grow the program's competitiveness through recruitment and outreach.
"Any progress forward from the University is a good sign, and I'm very excited to see what Western has to offer and see our growth," says Fagerlin, who will coach the Valorant varsity team.
Western President Edward Montgomery announced funding for the Esports @ WMU club in 2018 as part of his Transformational Initiatives Fund, which led to the creation of the University's Esports Arena. The facility features dozens of state-of-the-art gaming systems and has become a gathering place for the community, hosting middle and high school esports events.
"Our esports program gives our students another way to pursue their passion, find a community and build their leadership skills," says Montgomery. "Providing our students with opportunities like this to explore the full range of college experiences is a priority at Western, and I'm pleased that we can add this rapidly growing competition to our offerings."
Tryouts for the new competitive teams will be held in the Esports Arena at the following times:
- Valorant: Thursday, Dec. 2, from 7 to 10 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 3:30 p.m.
- Rocket League: Friday, Dec. 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 3:30 p.m.
- Overwatch: Friday, Dec. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m.
Online registration will open Thursday, Nov. 18. More information will be available on the Esports @ WMU webpage. All students interested in showcasing and elevating their esports skills are encouraged to attend.