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Northwest College e-Sports Team Finds Sponsorship Despite COVID-19 Delays

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

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.” 

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Northwest College Adds Video Gaming (eSports) as Competitive Sport

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

When thinking of competitive college activities, sports usually comes to mind.

But Northwest College is looking to increase its enrollment by offering a new sanctioned competitive program — video gaming.

According to a report by Goldman Sachs, Esports — or competitive video gaming — is more popular now than major league baseball. Entire stadiums are being constructed to lure fans and gamers to the booming billion-dollar industry.

Brian Erickson,  athletic director for Northwest College, said the college is banking on the popularity of Esports to boost enrollment numbers. 

“What do college kids do these days? They’re not throwing a frisbee, they’re not throwing the football anymore,” he said. “What are they doing on their time off? Well, they’re in their room and they’re gaming. So let’s get them out of their rooms, let’s get them in this facility gaming with each other, to give them a different interaction.”

Erickson said he was able to apply for a grant through Northwest’s college foundation to begin funding the activity, which he said won’t be very expensive compared to other sports.

“It will really only cost about $10,000 a year to run the whole thing,” he said, “and we’re already out there trying to get sponsors.”

He said Northwest is the first Wyoming school to offer e-sports as a sanctioned activity.

Once established, NWC players will be competing in Powell against teams from all over the country. For example, if they play against a team from Florida, NWC competitors would be playing from Powell and Florida players would be playing from their campus.

Erickson said a group formed for college e-gaming, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, has 178 teams as members, with competitors playing 15 different games.

When NWC’s program is up and running, its students will play regional and national teams. 

“League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite are the ones we’ll probably start with,” Erickson said.

Erickson said the program is just getting off the ground, starting with a “club” for the existing players this spring. The college will then recruit for a full Esports program for the fall semester. 

“We’ve got to do a really good job of marketing, that Northwest College has an Esports team,” he said. 

Erickson explained that the NACE has recruiting websites where potential students can log in and upload their profiles. He said there could be international students interested in attending Northwest College to game.

Before they begin, though, there are logistics to be tackled.

“We’re moving forward with the facility right now,” he said, spreading his arms inside a large empty room in one of the classroom buildings on the NWC campus. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the Internet connection that can run these games, then get the computers.”

Erickson said the school is looking to recruit 30 to 40 new students going into next year. If the recruiting drive is successful, he said it would halt the downward trend in enrollment the college has seen over the last few years. 

He added NWC hopes to have scholarship money available for potential students in the next three or four years. 

“One of our missions for the college is to retain and recruit,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our students here, and get our enrollment numbers back up.”

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