Travis Isbell named varsity esports director

UND has hired former professional gamer Travis Isbell as Esports director for the North Dakota varsity esports program.

Isbell, who forged a competitive gaming career in South Korea playing the real-time strategy game Starcraft II, previously served as esports director for St. Thomas University, Kansas Wesleyan University and Trine University before becoming a part-time coach for UND last year, under then-esports Coordinator Matthew King.

Isbell’s position will take over many of King’s previous responsibilities in building UND’s varsity esports venture. King intends to stay with North Dakota Varsity Esports, but is taking a step back and will be working remotely due to extenuating circumstances.

As Esports director, Isbell, a native of Exeter, Calif., will report directly to Eric Link, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“I am really excited, because I think that UND is going to become one of the premier esports programs in North America,” Isbell said. “UND and its leaders want to do things in the gaming space that are unique to this region, in particular.”

Since March 2020, UND’s esports program has taken form against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the disruptions to campus gathering and recruitment efforts, North Dakota Varsity Esports launched later that fall and has since enlisted nearly 100 students for its teams and varsity rosters.

Students have found opportunities with North Dakota Varsity Esports not just as competitors, but as organizers, leaders and managers across multiple esports titles and genres.

In addition to bolstering rosters of student gamers to compete against schools nationwide, Isbell is intrigued by the academic potential for esports at UND. As the fall semester approaches, Isbell says he wants to continue King’s work in establishing an esports major and looking toward potential graduate programs tied to gaming. He is also keen to establish a forward-facing space “at the center of campus life” that can cater to a growing number of students engaging with the program.

“We hope to develop a space that can become a hub for North Dakota Varsity Esports,” Isbell said. “As we develop something akin to what you might find in athletics programs, we want students to be able to meet, gather and work on those core pillars for our program: academics, communication, teamwork and practice, among others.”

“With his resume and history, I think Travis has hit the ground running in a way that will keep the program going in a great direction,” King said. “He’s taking what I’ve put in place and planning to amplify it in multiple ways. He’s going to be able to take his experiences, professionally and academically, to really transform North Dakota Varsity Esports.”

Provost Link similarly noted Isbell’s extensive experience in welcoming him to UND. Link, a recent UND arrival himself, said he’s looking forward to seeing how esports programming will grow and develop in ways that will “elevate both educational experiences and UND’s competitive esports operations.”

“UND is striving to show leadership at the forefront of competitive esports programming across the state of North Dakota and beyond,” Link said. “We are dedicated to offering 21st-century educational opportunities for students through an understanding and appreciation of how interactive media – and esports programming in particular – are changing the ways we think and communicate with the world around us.

“The interest in this programming is considerable, and the early successes of our new varsity esports program are indications of even greater things to come at UND in the coming semesters. We’re excited to have Travis Isbell join the UND team as Esports Director.”