eSports at UA has APS Student on the Team

The 'Buzz' About Final Four
Posted on 04/05/2019
Image of eSports at UA(Alan Ashworth for Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

Tucked in a basement practice center in the Jean Hower Taber Student Union, dozens of University of Akron students sit at computer terminals, their eyes focused on their monitors and their attention fixed to the task at hand.

It’s Monday and, in the room where the varsity players practice, all terminals are in use. The game is Rocket League, and the gamers are part of UA’s wildly popular esports program.

On Friday, members of the Rocket League will fly to Minneapolis to compete Sunday in the second collegiate esports final four. It’s the second time UA’s Rocket League team has made the select group, and they’re the only university in the nation to do so.

Michael Fay Jr., director of the program, said that esports at UA has taken off since its inception and is proving to be a lure for new students — as it was intended to be.

Professional gaming is already a big and growing business. According to a report from NewZoo, an esports analysis and data provider, the global audience for esports will grow to more than 500 million occasional and dedicated viewers by 2021. Revenues are expected to top $1.65 billion in the same year.

Fay worked on the professional side of the sport on YouTube and Twitch — a popular streaming service used extensively in the industry — before he came to UA to develop a competitive program.

Fay said it’s natural for colleges to want to get involved in an area that interests so many high school students.

In prior generations, he said, children wanted to grow up to be astronauts or music stars. Now, Fay said, many young people dream of becoming popular esports professionals.

“It’s becoming the new wanting-to-be-a-rock-star [goal],” Fay said. “It’s the digital equivalent.”

The rock stars — the Gold Roster — on UA’s Rocket League team all hail from Ohio, including Buzz “Buzz” Krager, an early college student from Akron.

Isaac “Reticence3” Stecker, a computer engineering student, grew up gaming in Leetonia, near Youngstown.


The third member of the Rocket League Gold Roster, Will “Salty” Weiser, is studying corporate financial management and comes from North Royalton.

Weiser said it was an easy decision to enroll at the University of Akron after he became informed about the esports program.

“When it came up I could get a scholarship, it was a no-brainer,” he said.

Dr. John Huss, interim dean of the Williams Honors College, said in an email that the esports program offers many opportunities for students and characterized the program as one of UA’s “strongest.”

“Our esports program has tremendous value in experiential learning opportunities for students at the University in such areas as esports casting, marketing, promotion, and beyond,” Huss said. “Like many of the University’s strongest programs, Akron Esports involves multiple disciplines: digital technology, graphic arts, business, athletics and psychology.”

In 2018, UA spent about $750,000 to renovate existing space at three locations on campus for the program, with sponsorships expected to offset some of that cost. An article in the May 6 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 70 institutions were offering esports scholarships.

Fay said that collegiate esports programs make sense not only because they are popular and help develop leadership and teamwork skills but because the skills of a champion-level esports player are often at their peak when students are in college. Reflexes, for many, start to decline soon after their college years.

“There are even some games that have seniors leagues with people in their 30s,” he said.

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