The team is set and the players are itching to log in to begin a new era of intercollegiate competition, esports, this fall at University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The university’s and UW System’s first official varsity collegiate esports team will begin competing online in three esports leagues. Rocket League begins in the fall. Competition in Overwatch and League of Legends will be held during the spring semester.
“Stout will come out of the gate and be pretty competitive,” said Andrew Cleveland, assistant director of Student Life and Services. “We have a lot of talent on campus and from incoming students for all three games.”
Logan Koneczny, a junior from Hermantown, Minn., will be on the Rocket League squad and expects UW-Stout to do well. He and other team members competed independently recently in the Collegiate Rocket League and took 19th in the U.S. out of 250 teams.
“We are only going to improve from there. We’ll be able to compete with the big colleges,” said Koneczny, who is majoring in computer networking and information technology, with a minor in mathematics.
Four of the seven UW-Stout Rocket League players have a Grand Master rating, or the top 0.5% within their region. They lobbied for UW-Stout to field a Rocket League team when it originally wasn’t planned.
Koneczny has been playing Rocket League since high school, with the goal of competing collegiately. “It’s really been a dream of mine to play college esports, and I’m sure it was for a lot of other players as well. To finally see a dream come true is really amazing,” he said.
Team tryouts were held in the spring. A total of 139 students applied, 50 were invited to try out and 27 selected for the 2020-21 varsity and junior varsity teams. The co-ed team includes 15 nationally ranked players.
“We told the team that it’s not an individual gaming journey anymore. It’s bigger than that — you’re playing for Stout now,” said, Cleveland, who has overseen development of the team with Dave Beck, director of the School of Art and Design.
The coaches, all students, are:
- Rocket League, Kyle Gabel, of Beaver Dam, a sophomore majoring in psychology
- Overwatch, Tobey Riedmann, of Menomonie, a sophomore who hasn’t decided on a major
- League of Legends, Ian Yang, of Minneapolis, a sophomore majoring in industrial design.
The Blue Devil competitions tentatively will be streamed on Twitch to allow fans to watch.
Riedmann is an experienced Overwatch player, ranked in the top 500 in North America. The Overwatch and League of Legends players aren’t as experienced as the Rocket League squad, he said, but have promise.
“I have high hopes for our esports teams over the next few years,” Riedmann said. “I am excited to share my experience to help develop a competitive and cohesive team.”
UW-Stout’s home “arena” will be a computer lab in the University Library. Players will be able to compete remotely, if needed, Cleveland said.
Esports on the rise
UW-Stout is a member of NACE, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, which has about 125 college teams.
The esports industry has been growing in popularity, at the college and professional level. In fall 2019, the League of Legends world championship drew 44 million viewers.
Matthew Gunderson helped develop the UW-Stout program as an assistant during the 2019-20 academic year. “Esports is exploding at an unprecedented rate and is a proven system for colleges to attract talent and new students to the university,” he said.
UW-Stout has a nationally ranked Bachelor of Fine Arts program in game design and development-art and a computer science program with a game design concentration. A Master of Fine Arts in design has a game design concentration.
The campus gaming culture includes the biannual Stout Game Expo and PONG — Peoples’ Organization of Network Gaming — that draw hundreds of people to the Memorial Student Center.
Gunderson, from Hudson, graduated in May with two degrees, business administration and psychology. He was president of PONG for two years.
“PONG is a massive cultural experience for gamers at Stout, as nowhere else will you find a college campus that holds three-day LAN (local area network) parties for 300 people,” said Gunderson, who has moved on to graduate school.
This fall, the esports program assistant will be Blake Bissel, a senior from Stillwater, Minn., majoring in computer science-game design.
Applications are open for the 2021-22 UW-Stout team.
“The reception to starting esports on campus has been phenomenal, particularly from students who are excited this level of competition is being offered,” Cleveland said.
UW-Stout Blue Devil esports logo
Tobey Riedmann, a sophomore, will coach UW-Stout’s Overwatch esports team in the spring.
UW-Stout’s new esports team builds on a campus culture that includes a video game undergraduate program and the Stout Game Expo, a biannual event that features games created by students.