MSU Esports is a Grassroots Movement
As a student at Michigan State, it is easy for me to see the progress of the Esports program in East Lansing. I see the group working endlessly during the evenings in the Communication Arts & Sciences Building. I see the number of students they draw for their groups and cannot help but to be optimistic about the future of Esports at MSU.
Michigan State does not have a formal Esports team for any game, but the Esports scene at Michigan State is lively nonetheless. Hailey Philips, the director of the Esports Association (ESA) at MSU, is optimistic about the future of organized video games going forward.
Phillips is going to be a junior at Michigan State and organizes communication between the Esports Association and the University officials. I talked to Phillips to get the inside scoop on the progress and future of Esports at MSU.
Q: What made you get involved with ESA at MSU?
A: I became a part of the Overwatch club when I was a freshman because a friend was in the club. I have always been interested in video games and the club felt like home. During my freshman year, I became treasurer of the Esports Association, and I have been a part of the club ever since.”
In the past two years, while I’ve been a part of the ESA, the club has grown to include many new games. Michigan State has clubs for many games including competitive games such as Super Smash Bros, Overwatch, League of Legends, and Starcraft 2.
Q: What is the future of Michigan State Esports?
A: We have made lots of progress but we still have a long way to go. The next step for Michigan State is to build an Esports arena. The arena would be able to host LAN (Local Area Network) events so that people can compete on the same servers against each other. This would provide a legitimate place for the eSports clubs to compete in East Lansing.
As of right now, Michigan State does not have a dedicated space for eSports like some other schools, but there is a chance of that changing in the near future. Before the campus was closed because of Coronavirus, we were having discussions with different sponsors and the university about building a gaming arena.
Q: What will the group do in the meantime until the arena is built?
A: These conversations with the sponsors and university will resume once students return to campus and the ESA can meet again. We are completely student-run, and it is hard for our group to progress when we are not on campus. Going into the new school year in the fall, the club will continue to meet in the Communication Arts building at night using empty classrooms.
This is not the ideal condition for the clubs to host competitions and practice the games, but it will work for the near future. The Super Smash Bros club will continue to meet on Tuesday nights, and stream their online competitions on the club’s Twitch channel. The League of Legends team will still compete against other schools and fight to be the best club League of Legends team in the country. The Overwatch club will continue to meet in the empty classrooms and bond while they play on school computers. The grand plans for a dedicated space for our group will have to wait once again.
Q: When will Michigan State add formal Esports teams to compete instead of having clubs for each game?
A: The conversations with the University will resume once we are back on campus. The school is losing money right now so they might not be inclined to give money right away. We will need lots of sponsors and time to make it happen, that’s for sure.
In terms of formal eSports teams at Michigan State, those are postponed at the moment as well. Michigan State does not offer scholarships or receive money from the school’s athletic department as a recognized team by the NCAA. The teams at Michigan State are a part of the Esports Association but are not given a dedicated space to compete or funds to help them. The teams can travel and compete because of the money they receive from sponsors.
There is no word from the University about supporting official teams for Esports. With everything that’s happened over the past few months, I am sure that MSU is not thinking about possible eSports teams. I think in the near future, they will prioritize building an arena, and teams will follow that.
Varsity eSports at MSU
Q: Where does the funding come from for the Esports clubs?
A: Sponsors are a big reason why we can exist and compete. The money we receive from them pays for our fees when traveling and when we host others. We hope that we can receive more support going forward to build our own arena. Sponsors are also the reason why the League of Legends team was able to get uniforms and compete in the National tournament last year.
There is strong support for the Association from Michigan State alumni, especially the Game Development department. Michigan State’s Game Development program is nationally renowned and has lots of successful alumni that support the current students.
Q: What does the future look like for MSU transitioning to formal Esports teams?
A: Varsity eSports teams have begun to pop up nationwide after the development of the National Association of College eSports (NACE). NACE began to hold organized tournaments for multiple games for college nationwide and provided money for eSports programs at schools. Lots of schools have varsity teams now, and we at Michigan State will join them eventually.
The teams at Michigan State are good enough to compete at the highest level. Last year, our League of Legends team won the Big Ten conference with an undefeated record. The team traveled the country to compete against other schools in tournaments around the nation. The team was one of the most successful club teams nationwide and the best team in the Big Ten.
Michigan State also has enough students to justify supporting Varsity eSports teams. As competitive video games increase in popularity, lots of students will be interested in MSU’s eSports scene outside of the hundreds of students that already are. A dedicated gaming space and funds for formal teams would help garner interest in the programs as well as help them grow. The eSports clubs at MSU currently have a few hundred students and support both casual and competitive gamers.
Video games are a massive part of the lives of the current generation of college students. To invest in them now would be smart for Michigan State, and we think that the school will fully support the programs going forward.
The school is in full support of the eSports programs here at MSU, and they listen to us completely. The Coronavirus pandemic halted our plans, but a dedicated gaming arena and other stuff will come soon.