By Ty Smith, Managing Editor
Photo courtesy of aqsaints.com
Aquinas College announced an esports program with a planned competition debut in Fall 2019, giving student athletes a chance to compete with other Michigan colleges in the burgeoning sport of competitive gaming.
Aquinas is one of the first colleges in Michigan to do so, joining the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) alongside Alma College, Davenport University, Northwood University and Siena Heights College.
Esports, or competitive gaming, relies on real time strategy, coordination, teamwork, and mental agility to achieve victory. The sport is fast growing, too; in 2017, the League of Legends World Finals attracted nearly 60 million viewers, whereas an average of only 20 million viewed the NBA finals.
There are many different esports to choose from, and Aquinas will begin the 2019-2020 school year offering six – League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, NBA2k, and NHL.
To head the esports program, Aquinas College hired Adam Antor. Antor previously launched a top-tier esports program at West Catholic High School.
Antor has a lot of history at Aquinas, as it’s where his parents first met. He’s currently working toward his Master’s at Aquinas, while his sister is a student here as well. “The opportunity to build an esports program here was something I couldn’t pass up,” Antor said.
The question remains, however; why esports? Why should we spend money and time on something new and untested?
“I think what esports can do for any college is target a certain part of the population that might not have felt a place to call home on campus,” Antor said. “I think gaming in general, for the longest time, has been a marginalized population, and I think calling yourself a gamer can be embarrassing in some circles. The opportunity to bring that to a varsity program at Aquinas’ campus targets a part of the population that can now feel more connected to campus and feel like they’re adding to the experience that is Aquinas.”
The competition to get on the esports team might be fierce. Antor doesn’t believe that will be an issue, as far as community building may be concerned. “Even if the opportunity for students isn’t going to be on the team, there’s going to be opportunity for students in the greater community to participate in campus tournaments. Super Smash is one that’s easy to set up in a dorm room or residential hall and play in the lobby.”
The new head coach is optimistic on the future of the sport, saying he believes it will grow “exponentially.” The first varsity esports program in Michigan was created at Siena Heights in spring of 2018. In just a year, five more colleges have declared official esports teams, and there is interest at the student level at many universities, like Michigan Tech and the University of Michigan.
The program will be run as any other athletic program here at Aquinas, including daily practices, mandatory gym time, as well as a competitive space specifically for the sport. It will have 30 or more computers, along with 15 PS4s and 15 Switches. The hardware will be sourced from iBUYPOWER, and furnishings will come from a Michigan-based company called DXRacer.
Antor described the student interest in the esports program as “phenomenal.” He estimates that 20 to 25 current students have reached out to him to try out for the team, and 21 non-students have applied to study at Aquinas to join the esports team.
These numbers have been since the program was announced just a couple months ago in late February. “The overall Aquinas community has been extremely welcoming, and that’s been amazing to watch,” Antor said.
Isaac Allen, a current Sophomore at Aquinas, has expressed interest in the program. He currently studies Business Administration while also being an orientation leader, a member of the Aquinas drum-line, and is hoping to become a student ambassador.
“It’s a new thing to a lot of people, including myself,” Allen said, “but I’ve always been good at them and so when I heard about this, I thought it was kind of my time to shine.” Allen said that he’d always been “kind of shy in person,” but thinks that the program might give him a way to make connections.
Though training will be as time consuming as any other sport, Allen doesn’t believe it will negatively impact his grades. “I’m going to be dedicated to this and I enjoy this, so I want to make time for it, and it shouldn’t be a struggle.”
Further information on when and where events will be held is yet to be determined, and the teams aren’t finalized yet. Tryouts should be in the fall, and Anton will be reaching out to interested students during the summer.
No one knows what the future holds for esports at Aquinas, but whatever happens, it’s sure to be interesting.
If you would like to get involved, you can message Adam Antor at firstname.lastname@example.org.