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Game on: North Dakota Varsity Esports launches ‘First 50’ lineup

UND’s foray into esports finds footing through new logo, plans for activities across semester’s first 50 days

The new name and look for UND’s burgeoning esports program has been unveiled as the semester starts this week. The occasion also kicks off North Dakota Varsity Esports’ series of “First 50” events. Image courtesy of North Dakota Varsity Esports.

UND’s esports coordinator, Matt King, found himself on a quest this summer.

The objective: make UND a competitive gaming powerhouse.

For gamers out there, think Master Chief soldiering his way to saving the galaxy in Halo, or Geralt of Rivia’s continent-spanning trek to gather powerful allies in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Granted, King’s quest is not nearly as fantastical in comparison, yet he is “gathering his party” of dozens of UND student gamers to achieve his mission.

Matt King

Since his spring start, King has recruited teams for multiple video game titles, and exhibition matches against yet-to-be-named schools are slated for Homecoming Week.

On top of that, North Dakota Varsity Esports – as the program is now known – has a fresh logo featuring the Fighting Hawk.

But, in the first 50 days of the fall semester, King wants to get the word out by connecting with students across the board through virtual get-togethers and gaming.

“Through our ‘First 50’ events, we want to show that there are many ways to interact with esports and be part of the gaming community,” King said.

So far, North Dakota Varsity Esports has activities planned for each Saturday – starting Aug. 29 – leading up to the inaugural, intercollegiate showdowns on Oct. 10.

People might think, since they haven’t played a certain game before or aren’t proficient, that they wouldn’t have any interest in esports, King told UND Today.

“But there are so many activities within esports that can be enjoyable to everybody,” King remarked. “I’m pretty sure most would find that enjoyment if they took that first step – that’s what First 50 is about.”

Movies, trivia, games

The strain on campus gatherings caused by the coronavirus has not deterred King and his “party” from achieving their goals.

In fact, the need to host events virtually can bring more people to the North Dakota Varsity Esports Discord server. The voice chat service popular within gaming communities has so far been a vital recruiting and communication tool, King said.

“We really want people to join us on that platform, and know that it exists, because it’s there for anyone who has an interest in gaming,” he explained. “It can be a great way for students to meet one another, as well as local community members.”

Those interested in taking part in the semester-launching activities are free to join the North Dakota Varsity Esports Discord server.

“First 50” is set to kick off Aug. 29 with a movie night featuring Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a film with a unique portrayal of the future of gaming, based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel of the same name.

The next weekend, Sept. 5, will be a Kahoot! Question Night putting both video game and UND knowledge to the test. Both events are going to be hosted on the Discord platform.

“Then we’ll be getting into what we’re calling ‘4-Fun Tournaments,’” King said.

On the following Saturdays leading up to Oct. 10, there will be tournaments where any students can compete. As the name entails, the stakes are bragging rights and new North Dakota Varsity Esports-branded face coverings, as opposed to conference rankings.

Considerations are being made to livestream these “4-Fun” matchups, though people will be able to catch all of the Homecoming action on the team’s Facebook and YouTube channels.

“These are going to be one-day, quick tournaments that hopefully more people can enjoy than just hardcore players,” King said. Some of the games include favorites such as League of Legends, Rocket League, and Fortnite.

Image courtesy of North Dakota Varsity Esports.

Ready for the best

Beyond the First 50 planning, work is under way in setting up UND’s first esports lab for varsity competitors. Situated on the second floor of the Hyslop and soon to be operational, King wanted the space to be optimal for teams to practice their games.

“I wanted to focus on function and making sure it had the things varsity players need,” King said, in comparing the space to the Wellness Center’s Nexus Esports lounge.

Varsity rosters will be able to use the esports lab free of charge with a swipe of their student ID at the door. Given the COVID-related adjustments to UND’s buildings, King assured that seats will be assigned for each team, and that only six people will be allowed access at one time.

“There are going to be cleaning requirements and it’s going to be pretty regulated to keep everybody safe,” said King, adding that his office will be in the near vicinity.

Enhancement of campus environment

Also in the wings are the academic avenues for esports, particularly in the College of Education & Human Development. Two one-credit-hour activity courses will open this fall for League of Legends and Fortnite. And, as reported in the spring, there is also an esports coaching minor on the way. Four courses comprising the core content will be available online come next spring.

Cindy Juntunen

Dean Cindy Juntunen shared that she “strongly supports” King’s approach through First 50, in that the events will give students new ways to connect, interact with peers and coaches and also identify career paths.

“I hope students will be able to develop new skills, enhance their teamwork abilities and have the opportunity to see how an area of interest could become an important opportunity for engagement and career development,” said Juntunen, who anticipates esports as an enhancement of the campus environment.

“Many students have a general interest in video games,” she continued. “This effort can provide an opportunity to channel that interest into additional learning opportunities.”

King emphasized that North Dakota Varsity Esports is about student involvement and experiences. “It’s all about them, and everything we’re doing through this program is about trying to help them get experiences within esports while they’re getting their degrees.”

North Dakota Varsity Esports can be found on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.