uCM gets in the game

Students Celebrate First Year of Esports

By Emily Kepley, Marketing Undergraduate Student

Esports headphones

When Assistant Professor of Mathematics Steven Shattuck, ’94, announced his plans to start an esports team, there was an influx of interest from students and prospective students. Shattuck reviewed more than 100 applications within the first week.

“It just spread like wildfire,” Shattuck says. “I realized right then and there that the students want this.”

In 2016, when the first-ever Collegiate Esports Summit was held in Kansas City, Missouri, there were only seven colleges and universities with a varsity esports team, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). Today there are more than 5,000 students at more than 170 institutions getting into the game. In fall 2019, UCM became the second public institution in Missouri to establish an esports program.

400-286-goddardLed by Head Coach Shattuck, the UCM Esports team competes against opposing universities in tournaments and scrimmages of multiplayer video games. Each student on the team receives a $500 semester scholarship for playing. After an immense show of interest by the student body, the UCM Esports team added two more games for spring 2020. Eight returning members and 19 new students were selected from hundreds of applications.

Ninety percent of the team is made up of students in the STEM fields of math, actuarial science, cybersecurity and software engineering. The rest have diverse majors ranging from aviation to biology to physical education to music performance. In addition to gaining knowledge that could help in careers like game design or development, players are building important skills like communication, teamwork, leadership and problem solving.

“Esports has provided me ample opportunity to engage in critical thinking skills, as both strategy and decision making evolves as the game is played,” says secondary biology education major Bradley Kenney, who just completed his junior year at UCM.

The program is designed to be a supplement to academics, and players are required to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. As with all UCM sports, academics is a priority. Coach Shattuck emphasizes that he wants his team members to be “the students who excel and graduate.” Each student on the team has dedication and a competitive spirit. Teams spend three hours a day, four days a week practicing as a unit. During each practice they spend up to two hours playing and a minimum of one hour strategizing and studying the game. Players also practice several hours on their own time.

The esports team is a community where students are able to come together and play games that would normally be an isolated activity. Austin Loucke, a software engineering major who just completed his sophomore year, has been playing Rocket League for half a decade. “That’s my game,” he says, “so I was really excited for the opportunity to play with other students.”

UCM Esports allows students to get involved with campus life in a nonathletic setting by creating a community and sense of university pride.

“Being with this team means a lot considering that I am more involved with the university,” says Rachel Homewood, an interior design major who plays on the Rocket League team and just finished her first year at UCM.

Esports team 2020

The esports program has impacted other areas of the university in addition to the select group of students on the team. Digital Media Production students have been assisting in streaming the esports scrimmages and tournaments as part of the sports broadcasting course. Streaming esports is a rapidly expanding industry, and students are able to practice diverse camera work and various director roles in a nontraditional sports competition.

Digital Media Production is providing support to the esports team by “trying to facilitate their needs and trying to bring it to a bigger audience,” according to video production instructor Scott Hofsommer, ’14.

Giving students the opportunity to play and broadcast esports has opened up a whole new realm of recruitment for future Mules. Based on data from the BeRecruited dashboard, which recently added esports to its cadre of traditional sports, there have been more than 150 prospective students considering UCM because the university is offering this distinctive program. Inquiries have come from Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, New York and California.

UCM Assistant Vice Provost for Admissions and Financial Aid Drew Griffin says he is only expecting the program to grow from here.

“I’ve seen what esports has done for other schools, and I can see the potential here,” Griffin says. “Just like an athletic team, it can also draw in students.”

While there is a limit on how many players can play each game, there is no limit to the number of games that can be played. UCM Esports is an exciting opportunity for students in every field of study to get in the game.

Watch these players compete on the streaming network Twitch @ucmesports. Support the team at ucmfoundation.org/give/esports.




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