MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon Nazarene University has added a new athletic program for the upcoming academic year, but the new team will not be hitting homers or buzzer-beating shots, but rather winning battle royales and looking to score digital goals.
The Cougars are welcoming an esports program this upcoming fall, under the direction of coaches Justin Nowicki and Tony Stemen. The idea for an esports program has been in the making for nearly a year.
“MVNU’s leadership team identified several potential sports as part of a larger strategy of expanding athletic offerings,” Nowicki said. “In the summer of 2018, my assistant coach, Tony Stemen, and I were asked to share some research on the growth of esports as a category and what esports would bring to our campus. We presented our research findings, including information on game content, recruiting projections and budgetary considerations at that time.”
This upcoming year, the athletes will compete in “Overwatch,” “League of Legends,” “Fortnite,” “Rocket League,” “Hearthstone” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” With the exception of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” all of the games will be played on gaming PCs. For a majority of the season, the team will compete from Ariel Arena, competing online, but the Cougars will travel to some tournaments throughout the year.
Recruiting started quickly after the program was announced, but it still continues for this upcoming season and beyond.
“The main thing that I look for in a student is someone who’s a good fit for MVNU,” said Nowicki, who is also Director of Development for MVNU. “They’re looking for a distinctly Christian, liberal arts college experience in a community that really cares about them as a person. Additionally, we’re looking for those who are committed to growing academically, emotionally and spiritually, not just growing in their esports skill level.”
One of the many reasons to bring esports to MVNU was to bring new prospective students to the campus, and Nowicki said he is already seeing that come to fruition leading up to the first season.
“From what we’re seeing so far in our recruiting, it’s bringing students to campus who are very bright, very promising and very motivated to be successful,” Nowicki said. “It’s a win-win.”
The team will find its new home in Ariel Arena in an old cardio workout gym that is in the process of being transformed into a gaming space. The room will hold 35-40 stations and the equipment is being installed and will be finished over the next couple of months to get ready for the fall semester.
Heading into the inaugural year, Nowicki hopes the esports teams can rack up the wins, but also excel in other ways.
“My goals are for the teams to grow, for our players to learn how to work together in a cohesive way and for the teams to experience success in terms of wins,” Nowicki said. “More importantly, my goal is that our student athletes will grow in their understanding of how gaming fits into a healthy lifestyle and how they can be positive, Christ-like voices in the gaming community.”