By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Get ready gamers.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney is taking esports to the next level, giving students more opportunities to showcase their skills while interacting with fellow Lopers.
“Over the past four or five years, esports has really taken off, and we want to embrace that,” said Andrew Winscot, assistant director of UNK Campus Recreation. “Gaming definitely fits our mission of offering something for everybody.”
Esports isn’t new to UNK Campus Recreation, which has hosted tournaments in the past, but the current plan extends far beyond on-campus events. The ultimate goal is to create teams that represent UNK in larger competitions.
“Hopefully by the end of the fall semester we have some teams formed and competitions lined up,” said Winscot, who leads a committee formed earlier this year to expand esports at UNK.
The committee includes representatives from across campus who see value in growing the gaming community. After meeting with about 30 students in February, the group knew they had the interest needed to move forward.
“You could tell how excited the students were,” Winscot said. “They really have a passion for esports.”
The committee has taken several steps since then.
Loper eSports, which is part of Campus Recreation, now has a Discord channel where UNK students can connect and compete online. An esports website and Facebook page were also added to promote upcoming events.
Campus Recreation plans to increase the number of esports events it hosts each semester, starting with the first-ever Rocket League tournament scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 6. Students can sign up for the tournament here.
League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Fortnite, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Madden and NBA 2K are among the other games offered by Loper eSports.
Committee members are also looking for UNK students interested in organizing teams to compete on the state, national or global levels. An online form was created to get this ball rolling.
Eventually, Winscot said, the committee wants Loper eSports to function as a student club or organization.
“We want it to be driven and led by the students,” he said.
Dave Roberts, assistant dean for student affairs, and Matt Allbright, assistant director of operations for UNK Residence Life, also serve as advisers for Loper eSports, which is open to all students.
Roberts has worked at schools with varsity esports programs. Gaming is a personal interest, as well. He plays Rocket League, Overwatch and other games on a self-built computer and has competed in amateur tournaments.
“This is definitely an area UNK should explore,” Roberts said. “I think we’re making good moves.”
Roberts views esports as a way to build camaraderie on campus, especially at a time when students have fewer in-person interactions because of COVID-19. Gaming requires a high level of teamwork, communication and skill, he said, and it’s an easy way to meet new people.
“I think it’s a really great recruitment tool, too,” said Roberts, who’s had numerous conversations with prospective students interested in gaming.
In Nebraska, 22 school districts participate in competitive esports, according to the Nebraska Schools eSports Association website.
Allbright sees gaming as an opportunity to transform underutilized spaces on campus. He envisions an old computer lab or conference room turning into an esports arena where students hang out and compete.
“They’re already gaming on their own, so why not get them connected with more people on campus?” Allbright said.