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DWU opens the door to esports

Members of the Dakota Wesleyan University esports team are unveiled Tuesday during an event at the Sherman Center on the DWU campus. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

For more than 100 years, students have played sports at Dakota Wesleyan University.

And starting in January, they'll enter the field of play in something completely different. Esports will be a sanctioned club sport on the DWU campus and begin competition next semester. The university announced the news Tuesday at the Sherman Center in a 20-minute unveiling of the games they'll play and part of the roughly 30-person, co-ed roster.

Esports consists of multi-player online or in-person gaming both in teams and on an individual basis. DWU students will commonly play from high-powered gaming consoles and the university is in the process of renovating two rooms on campus for team members to practice and compete in.

DWU President Amy Novak said the reason to add esports to the list of campus offerings was, in part, because so many of the university's students are already gaming in high quantities anyway, noting that the school's servers see a gaming spike late at night. DWU added a new gaming-specific server within the last two years to accomodate for study and gaming use.

"I think when you hear about esports and you're my age or the older population in the community, they have a moment of pause and they ask if we're serious about that," Novak said. "At the same time, our mission and our roots at Dakota Wesleyan are about innovating and looking progressively about our future. ... The reality nationally and internationally is that this a huge new business and a huge new sport. People are excited about competing and we looked at how can we at Dakota Wesleyan can be a part of leading that in our state and in our region."

Chad Harvey, the university's director of information technology, is the program's inaugural coach and director. He said the program will provide a platform for students with gaming talents to showcase those abilities, just like DWU's current athletic programs are able to do in sports.

"And so if there's a way to reach out to those students who would otherwise be thinking, 'Eh, I'm here to get a degree and and that's it,'" Harvey said, "this is another way for them to feel connected to the university."

Harvey said that includes some recruiting as well, seeking top-ranked players to join who might be interested in DWU's academic programs as well, and that could lead to scholarships. Novak said the scholarship structure hasn't been finalized but said it's possible top players could get a $500 to $2,000 scholarship, depending on the circumstances.

DWU is the third South Dakota university to add an esports program, joining Dakota State University in Madison and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, while becoming the fifth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference to offer a program. Esports students will be required to maintain eligibility via a grade-point average, while following nutritional and exercise regimens.

"One of our goals in the Digital DWU Initiative was to allow students to understand using digital technology responsibly," Novak said. "We wanted to see how we can bring some structure and personal responsibility to this activity and be more prescriptive about what you need to do in addition to gaming to be a healthy individual."

The five games DWU will be involved in playing is Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, Counter-strike: Global Offensive and Fortnite. A few of those games are first-person shooting games and involve characters being shot and killed. Novak said DWU is participating in games that are rated for teen use, not mature adults and the games are limited on blood and gore, following standards that are set by the National Association of Collegiate Esports.

Harvey said the goal is to have students potentially make a career out of esports, if that's something they're interested in. He said the gaming world opens the door to video content, design and social media work.

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