COVID-19 delayed Northwest College’s plans for adding a competitive video gaming team, but interest in the program remains strong, the college’s athletic director said.
“We’re still working with some companies about the possibility for sponsorship, but the college’s foundation approved a $15,000 grant,” said Brian Erickson, Northwest’s athletic director. “And a local internet provider is slated to provide the program services valued at about $70,000 over the next three years.”
Competitive video gaming, collectively known as electronic sports or Esports, is catapulting into the mainstream. Business Insider reported in December the industry’s earnings are on track to be more than $1 billion in 2020, and Northwest is working to get ahead of the game.
Once launched, the college’s program would make Northwest the first school in Wyoming to boast a sanctioned Esports team.
“We’re looking at ways to boost enrollment,” Erickson said. “And this is a perfect fit.”
Initially, Northwest planned to host Esports activities in a club capacity this spring while building a facility that would allow the college to add the activity to the fall curriculum. But as COVID-19 spread, establishing a supply line for equipment to fill the new facility became increasingly difficult.
“The timing was unfortunate,” Erickson said, explaining the college was negotiating with PC companies before the shutdowns rolled out. “But, I think it’s going to work in the future.”
The exact details of the Esports facility are still in the works, but the Athletic Department plans to remodel an existing room on campus and outfit the space with several PC stations and a lounge area with televisions. Erickson said some of the equipment — such as desks and seating — would be supplied by Northwest, but the gaming equipment would likely be new.
The term Esports encompasses all competitive video gaming platforms, which range from consoles and mobile phones to PCs and laptops. Initially, Erickson said his department considered splitting the course between console and PC gaming, but as plans moved forward, it became clear the program would need to start with a PC-focused team before branching out to other platforms.
The Northwest team could compete in Overwatch, Counter Strike and League of Legends, among others. But ultimately, the players will decide what games to focus on, Erickson said.
The total cost of the facility is slated to be between $20,000-25,000, he said.
Competitive gaming is reliant on strong, consistent internet infrastructure — something Wyoming has struggled with for several years. To ensure the team is not handicapped by the college’s standard internet, which would offer varying speeds depending on the time of day, internet provider TCT West plans to pipe in its own internet for the team as part of a potential sponsorship that could also include an annual $17,000 scholarship for the next three years, Erickson said.
“TCT loves the idea of partnering with us,” he added.
On the internet provider’s end, the Esports team could strengthen interest in technological courses at Northwest, which have the potential for providing the company with a steady flow of skilled workforce applicants.
Although plans for the gaming facility are on hold, Northwest is slated to renew conversations with potential equipment suppliers, such as Microsoft and Dell, once pandemic-induced shutdowns start rolling back nationwide.
“I think we could have the facility complete by late fall,” Erickson said. “I think we could have this going as a full, one-credit athletic course by next spring.”