In video game lingo, the esports program at University of Wisconsin-Stout is poised for more “GG” — good games — thanks in part to a new home arena equipped with the latest in gaming gear.
A former classroom on the third floor in Heritage Hall has been repurposed as the home base for the Blue Devil esports team.
On game nights, up to a dozen players in Blue Devil jersey tops sit tight in their high-back black gaming chairs, fix their gazes on flashing video screens and shout into their microphones as they take on opponents from across the nation.
Previously, players in the third-year program were competing remotely and individually from their residence halls and apartments, two of those years during the pandemic.
“It was fine playing at home, but it doesn’t emulate the power you feel in the room,” said team member Logan Frischmann. “After a nice round you can run around the room and high-five your teammates and talk strategy between games.”
“The best thing is the amount of camaraderie you can build. It’s nice to see people grow and fulfill their dream in this type of environment. People can thrive,” added Frischmann, of Medford, a junior majoring in dietetics.
“We can finally be together,” said Travis Miller, esports director from Blue Devil Athletics.
The program is in its second varsity season and has about 30 players and student coaches. The university competes in three games, Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League and will add two games in the fall, Valorant and Super Smash Bros., boosting the roster to about 40 next season after tryouts.
UW-Stout has a nationally ranked bachelor’s degree program in game design and development-art, but the esports roster has players from a variety of academic disciplines.
The new equipment includes computers, monitors and chairs that are “top of the line,” Miller said.
The Hewlett-Packard Omen computers have a powerful central processing unit and graphics processing unit, the latter allowing players to experience realistic scenes, including reflections off glass and water, to help them process moves when competing.
The 280 hertz monitors mean the screens refresh 280 frames per second, almost twice as fast as a standard gaming computer. “You see it in live time and are caught up with what’s actually happening,” said Toby Riedmann, Overwatch coach.
Riedmann, of Menomonie, is a junior business administration major. He was a national top 500 Overwatch player independently before choosing to coach the UW-Stout team when the esports program began in 2019.
The monitors are 24 inches, not overly wide, but a smaller monitor works better for competitive gaming because players can see everything that’s happening in their field of vision without having to move their heads, Miller said.
The new chairs are modeled after seats that race car drivers use. “Everything is comfortable, with adjustable heights and arm rests. It allows for customization,” Miller said.
The arena includes a projector so that players can stream video of their past performances and watch them together, like traditional athletics teams that watch film of previous games or of opponents.
Miller also is an assistant softball coach and previously was an assistant baseball coach at UW-Stout. He is a former collegiate baseball player at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb.
Teams are doing well
UW-Stout has been competitive nationally this year. The Rocket League team made the National Association of Collegiate Esports playoffs, and the Overwatch and League of Legends teams missed the playoffs by one victory each.
The Rocket League team also made the playoffs in the Wisconsin Collegiate Rocket League and will play in person Friday, April 30, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. It’s UW-Stout’s first in-person match in the history of the program.
“We’re competing against a lot of schools that offer scholarships,” Miller said. “We’re lucky to have a lot of talent already here.”
One of those talented players is Frischmann, who is ranked 264th nationally — the top 1% — in Overwatch out of between 15,000 and 25,000 players.
Frischmann enjoys the challenge of esports as much as he did playing high school football. “It’s almost on the same level of mental acuity. The high level of precision you need to maintain for hours is super draining,” he said.
A match, like in volleyball, consists of a best of five series of games; the first team to win three games takes the match. Each game takes between five and 25 minutes.
The Blue Devils’ arena could expand to an adjacent room, which would be used for production, streaming the matches and a play-by-play announcer, which are standard setups at many competing schools, Miller said.
The Blue Devils belong to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, which has more than 170 member schools representing more than 5,000 student athletes.