St. Cloud State University is launching into Esports in a big way this fall with its first competitive Rocket League team.
Esports is a combination of video games and competition with global appeal. Viewership of Esports tournaments rivals that of traditional sporting events and the field is expanding to generate new professions in shoutcasting, event and team management, and Esports therapy.
In addition to the collegiate team, St. Cloud State’s Esports offerings include two campus Esports lounges, a residential Esports lounge, Esports camps and a new Esports Management Minor offered by Herberger Business School this fall. The College of Science and Engineering is also getting into gaming with the launch of a Game Development Certificate program.
Esports is a new but growing phenomenon at the collegiate level. The National Association of College Esports (NACE) formed in 2016 with seven colleges and universities. Today more than 170 colleges and universities are members of NACE with more than 5,000 Esports student-athletes and $16 million in Esports student scholarships.
“Our approach to Esports is being driven by the needs of our community and the Esports industry,” said Vice President for Technology and Chief Information Officer Phil Thorson. “Our approach to camps and our academic programs are heavily focused in leadership and casting Esports.”
Interest in Esports at St. Cloud State has been growing as well. Toby Thongphasavanh ’14 started St. Cloud State’s first Esports club around League of Legends while a student at St. Cloud State studying Information Technology Security.
He connected with his fellow students to grow the club from himself and seven friends to about 200 students and hosted large tournaments in 2014.
After graduating, he founded Shift Up Esports, a consulting firm that hosts Esports and cofounded Minnesota Championship Series. He’s hosted local Esports tournaments throughout Minnesota and helped run the largest ever amateur Esports tournament in the state. He now works as an Esports planning consultant with several clients including the Mall of America, Minnesota United, St. Paul Saints, Mountain Dew and Mystic Lake. In 2021 he returned as a consultant to St. Cloud State with his colleague Geoff Zwang to help the university build and launch its own Esports program.
St. Cloud State Esports teamed up with the Mass Communications department this summer to present a camp in shoutcasting and livestreaming video play for high school students led by Thongphasavanh and Zwang.
The camp focused on emerging industries within Esports and gave participants a look at streaming their own playing as well as casting and commenting on the play of other gamers. They also heard from experts in managing and running tournaments and an Esports team therapist to learn more about the various opportunities within Esports.
Noah Kylander, a professional Esports player and shoutcaster, who is now St. Cloud State’s Rocket League coach, was on hand to work with the camp participants and share his expertise in casting and game play.
Kylander played professionally for six years before turning to coaching. His philosophy is one of grind and positivity.
“A lot of people have a misconception that gaming is really only about playing, but we want to be able to expand people’s prospects into what they think careers could be in the industry as well as get a hands-on interaction to learn some really valuable skills that they can take home with them,” Kylander said.
“I feel like my contributions to the St. Cloud State University Rocket League program will not only help develop the skills and gameplay of these talented individuals, but also create a fun and welcoming atmosphere that will benefit the Esports program overall.”