“Esports is identified as a very quickly growing sport,” according to Justin Nowicki, Mount Vernon Nazarene University Director of Development and new head coach of the Esports program. Nowicki and Tony Stemen, MVNU alumnus and assistant coach, brought research to the senior leadership team surrounding Esports which led to it being included in the expansion of athletics.
MVNU’s Esports program will include the games Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Hearthstone. Each of these teams may not be fielded in year one, depending on which games the recruits play. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also being considered as a sixth option.
As head coach, Nowicki is responsible for recruiting, marketing, planning schedules, training students, and helping the campus understand how Esports can be an active, healthy part of the campus community. Nowicki was asked to be head coach due to his interest in video games.
“We are actively recruiting players of all skill levels for each of the teams. We are still looking for additional players for fall of 2019,” said Nowicki. According to him, one of the biggest difficulties for the program has been getting the word out about the team. “There is no OHSAA equivalent for Esports. I can’t just go watch a high school team’s practice or attend a tournament because they just don’t exist yet. It’s an emerging sport. Many high schools are in the process of adding it to their athletic offerings, and so I think recruiting will get easier as time passes.”
There are many other hurdles, including the perception of Esports and the timing for the program’s addition. “Many people have an outdated, stigmatized view of who video gamers are and what kind of content the games include,” Nowicki said. “There’s also a timing challenge. I’ve heard from students that they think the addition of new sports, including Esports, is somehow to blame for the reductions in academic programs that have taken place. That simply isn’t the case. It’s just unfortunate timing.”
The university also had to consider the culture of video games, which do contain violence. According to Nowicki, they are addressing this issue by “not playing any game with graphic violence” as well as “not playing any game rated higher than ‘T- Teen’ by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.” Nowicki added that, “Video games and gaming culture are not new to MVNU. Since the days of early PC games like Command and Conquer and Starcraft, as well as Halo on the original Xbox, MVNU has had a pretty active group of gamers who enjoyed the camaraderie and community that can come from playing together. We recognize the stigma that tends to exist around gaming, particularly the notion that playing video games is an isolating, solitary experience. We are excited to give gamers a platform on this campus and to help generate a healthy community around playing video games together. The team-building, communication, and strategic thinking skills that athletes gain from participating in a team sport are present in Esports, too. Gaming can be a force for good, and we’re excited to show that to MVNU.”