UWRF among 170-plus schools with esports teams

Posted October 13, 2022

Esports popularity is on the rise, with even the University of Wisconsin-River Falls deciding to throw its hat into the ring. But what kind of competition can be expected from such an endeavor?

Esports, or electronic sports, is a classification of video games that are played on a competitive level, and as of 2022, this industry makes over a billion dollars annually. It is due to this fact that so many have jumped on the esports bandwagon, including UWRF.

With this summer’s hiring of Dylan Gentilcore as head esports coach, the university is interested in investing in this new industry, but it isn’t the only one.

UWRF is a member of the nonprofit National Association of Collegiate Esports. In all, more than 170 colleges and universities are members of NACE, but just seven are listed as Wisconsin schools. River Falls, Stout in Menomonie, and Eau Claire are the only University of Wisconsin campuses that are members of NACE.

Currently, popular esports titles include team-based games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Apex Legends, and even Rocket League. But what would a potential esports tournament look like, and what kind of competitions does esports entail?

James Mullin is president and founder of the UWRF esports club.

“So there’s two different kinds of esports events. One is like a professional esports event where collegiate varsity teams compete, and the second is more of a club event,” Mullin said. “Competitive collegiate ones — we recently went to one in Mankato, about three hours away. Everybody would gather their best varsity teams, dress them up in jerseys to represent the college. And then there it’s usually set up as single elimination, best of three, and it usually builds up until obviously there is two left and then there is one grand champion.”

Other than how the competition works, there is the issue of who there is to compete against. A few other UW schools are starting to dip their toes into the esports scene, but things are very much still in the early stages. According to Mullin, however, there is still competition somewhat nearby.

“Usually how esports things rolls down, to my interpretation, is it’s the most closest four states to you. So we have people come from Illinois, I believe, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which are the four closest to us. I think the closest that we have coming up is actually at Stout (UW-Stout in Menomonie), which is only like 40-ish minutes away.”

UWRF plans to launch and compete at the varsity level by the 2023-2024 school year. Currently, it is focusing on creating an esports arena in the basement of the Chalmer Davee Library and recruiting members to form teams for different games. For now, the esports club will continue to help gauge interest across campus and search out players who could one day compete at the collegiate level.