Esports gamers are pictured at The Come Up event earlier this year at the University of Central Oklahoma. The competition had 66 unique entrants across three events, with more than  $600 in cash prizes given out from pots.

The University of Central Oklahoma is at the forefront of welcoming esports into the collegiate-competitive scene.

Esports are competitively played multiplayer video games. This includes popular games like Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers, Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, and Riot Games’ title League of Legends — which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall.

The university plans to enter the scene, providing an academic and competitive outlet for participating students. To do that, they’ll be building an esports facility next door to Textbook Brokers. Construction is expected to begin after fall break with an expected finishing date of May 2020.

Currently, the school has two esports classes taught by Ariel West and Dr. David Hanan, esports advisor and co-founder and board member of the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors.

The esports arena will feature tabletop, console and PC gaming. There will be a general admission fee and will serve as an outlet for students to hang out and destress. According to Hanan, it will also be a place for the community.

“I’ve always been passionate about video games,” Hanan said. “Being a part of shaping and coaching the college esports is really cool.”

He said there is a shift in the way students learn.

“Esports is one catalyst for this change and engaged students are more likely to succeed,” he said. “Team sports are inherently team-building exercises. Students will explore career opportunities that otherwise were unknown through application of skills acquired through management of the esports program at UCO.”

Hanan said gaming is a way for students to experience cooperation within a team-based environment, conflict resolution, and strategic planning.

“Soft skills are a requirement in today’s job market and a successful team must display such team mentality,” he said.


University Students excited for progress


Billy Katsigiannis, a senior at UCO and president of esports at UCO, said he’s a casual video game player.

“I’ve always watched esports, lots of League of Legends,” he said. 

Katsigiannis met Hanan two years ago in a class Hanan taught, History of Video Game Music.

“I talked to him about esports during his class,” he said.

He enjoys working in the administration of the program, versus being a player. Esports allows for more diversity and any major can be involved in the industry, Katsigiannis said. He hasn’t dealt with a lot of negativity, but he said parents have this idea kids “make money playing video games because a 16 year old won $3 million playing Fortnite.” 

Katsigiannis said because of recent studies, people are less-likely to connect violence to video games.

The university is working on implementing a major and minor program for students as well because esports is an industry.

“It’s just like football,” he said. “Someone needs to make the recap film, there’s interviews before and after a game.”

Katsigiannis said there will be summer camps after the arena opens and there are hopes for more global recruitment where esports are more common.

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