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UWEC Student Senate and Recreation Partner to Offer Intramural E-Sports

Lauren Fisher, photos by UW-Eau Claire News

Ten new Dell desktop computers are awaiting placement in their new home in UW-Eau Claire’s Hilltop Recreation Center, where they will become part of the university’s new intramural esports program.  The program will provide the space and organizational structure for UW-Eau Claire gamers to compete against one another in League of Legends, Super Smash Bros., and other contests.

Esports is competitive computer gaming, and it’s a worldwide pastime with more annual viewership than the Superbowl.  Athletes train and compete as teams, studying their gaming specialization and often streaming their practices and matches for spectators to watch.  Official tournaments and individual athletes and teams attract big-name sponsors as would a traditional sporting endeavor.

Realistically, there’s always going to be more and more high school graduates interested in esports and once the university has a program, it’s going to be able to appeal to those students. 

The esports program was established in a partnership between the Student Senate and the University Recreation and Sport Operations, according to Joe Murphy, a third-year student and the director of information technology for the Student Senate.  He worked with the senate to draft and pass a bill that provided $17,000 of student senate fee money to pay for the gaming systems.  The fee money paid for five of the computers, while Dell donated the other five.  The Recreation Department agreed to set up and maintain a space in the hilltop center to run the systems.

“This is the smallest it’s ever going to be,” Murphy said.  “Realistically, there’s always going to be more and more high school graduates interested in esports and once the university has a program, it’s going to be able to appeal to those students.”

Interest in esports is already exploding, according to Garrett Larson, the Recreation and Sport Operations competitive sports coordinator.  “I’ve never seen a student group grow as quickly as esports has grown here in a short amount of time,” Larson said.  “Gaming has been around a long time, but it’s advanced into something more than people just playing a game.  This isn’t a fad; esports is here to stay.”

This is illustrated by the rapid growth of Blugold League of Legends, UW-Eau Claire’s first esports club which was founded just this year.  In that time, it’s gained more than 160 students.

UW-Eau Claire’s esports program will begin as one where students compete against each other, but might become an inter-collegiate organization like UW-Stout’s blooming esports program, Murphy said.

“I think if you give it five years and check back in, a rivalry between the two school is on the table,” he said.

“I think engagement is really important in academics,” Murphy said.  “I think feeling like you’re a part of something is going to help you perform.”  While the university has many opportunities for students to engage with their campus through athletics such as soccer, basketball, and more, an esports program will bring a previously underserved population into the fold.

This inclusion comes with a host of opportunities to grow, Murphy and Larson said.  Esports athletes, just as traditional athletes do, practice teamwork, improve focus, think creatively, and learn the value of hard work.

“People look at it and think you’re just clicking a couple boxes, but it’s really complicated," Murphy said.

“It’s just like football; you can watch the Vikings or the Packers play and they’ve got all different plays laid out, they’ve got game plans, they know how each of the other players is going to operate, it’s really similar in that regard.”

The campus esports program is slated to be officially up-and-running during the spring semester.  For more information, check in with University Recreation and Sports Operations.