Electronic sports, known as eSports, is an industry expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2020.1 300 million fans worldwide make up a virtual audience, cheering for their favorite players at in-person viewing events or streaming competitions online through YouTube or Twitch. This may sound foreign to you, but it’s happening closer to home than you think.
“We call eSports the wild west,” said Thomas Goodman, Director of eSports at Siena Heights. “Gaming isn’t new, but the concept of organized leagues and incorporating teams into an academic setting is.”
While the eSports arena at Siena Heights University might wow you for its glowing, multi-screen, and high-action arrangement it’s more than meets the eye. Goodman, who has been charged with growing the Siena Heights varsity team sees eSports as the next generation means to prepare young adults for successful careers and meaningful relationships.
To many people, this is where the idea of professional and personal development stemming from video competitions is completely new. “The coaching I do with the team is largely interpersonal,” explains Goodman. The team is full of great individuals but for many of them, this is the first fully integrated team experience they have had in life. We’re working out communication issues, prioritizing team over self, and creating a space where everyone has a voice in strategizing. Teams like this are in many ways like traditional sports in learning respect, grace, and cooperation.”
Programs that build well-rounded individuals to be part of our community are exciting and critical. As D & P Communications continues to invest in the community, it looks for opportunities just like this. “Not only are we supporting the learning experience for the students through sponsorships,” said D & P Communications’ President, Robert Parisien “we can partner with them on a technical level, too.”
Siena Heights has long partnered with D & P Communications and on the project of creating an eSports area, brought a dream to fruition. A cross-functional team at the university designed and developed many of the area features in-house. D & P Communications structured the incredible bandwidth players needed for a reliable, speedy, and single connection to each of the 24 PC gaming stations.
Team captain Aaron Bitz is a senior and wishes the program would have been available sooner. “This has been an amazing experience and opened doors I didn’t know were available to me,” said Bitz. As a dual-sport athlete, Bitz balances commitments to varsity eSports and golf on top of a full class load. “Rocket League, the game I specialize in, helped me make a personal connection with the hiring manager for my internship.” Bitz is pursuing his masters following graduation and has a job already waiting for him.
Sophomore Lena Dunn, a life-long athlete in the traditional sense, finds eSports a better fit for her. “I’ve always had fun dabbling in gaming but wasn’t a gamer,” she said. “I chose Siena Heights for education and was playing lacrosse when I heard about the eSports team starting and learned I could compete in Overwatch, a game I really enjoy.” The rest is history. Dunn is currently the lone female on the team but doesn’t mind. She brings her years of being coached in focus, sportsmanship, and competition to the arena.
Goodman is actively working on recruiting, looking for more students like Bitz and Dunn that prioritize Siena Heights as a choice for education, but also want to be part of a team where they can use their passion as a platform to develop as a person. “Thomas has done an outstanding job getting this program off the ground,” said Susan Syljebeck, Siena Heights’ Interim Athletic Director. “He has taken charge of everything from assuring we have the right infrastructure, working with donor relations to ensure our team has the budget it needs to have a professional experience and is personally committed to coaching with heart.”
With a background in higher education and coaching soccer, one could say that Goodman comes from tradition. But at the time he was a student himself, men’s soccer teams in an academic setting were not so common. He empathizes with the students facing criticism of this new, misunderstood program. Goodman anticipates the program to grow by another 25% by the next academic year. That won’t be hard with his dedication and the Siena Heights team behind him.
“There’s a bit of a fight ahead of us until we begin to normalize,” he said. “But that comes with the territory of being willing to do what is new, and therefore different. It’s going to be a great addition to having Siena Heights and our entire community more recognized by people from around the country, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
D & P Communications is proud, too, of people like Thomas Goodman and organizations like Siena Heights. It’s our community’s ability to work together, grow together, and succeed together that makes use different; D & P Communications is honored to help power those moments as we know first-hand what it takes to stay relevant through the decades. We live here. We play here. We are your neighbors and friends.