HOWELL, Mich. (AP) – Jarod Ericksen has always loved video games and recently turned his passion for gaming into a career. Now he wants to extend that opportunity to prospective students at Cleary University.
Cleary hired Ericksen in February to be the head coach of its newly established esports team – a group of athletes who play video games competitively, the Livingston Daily reports.
Esports is one of the fastest-growing sports in college athletics. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, there were less than 10 teams in 2016, and today there are almost 200.
As a member of NACE, Cleary’s athletes will compete in tournaments against esports teams across the nation. Ericksen is also working with other coaches in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference to organize conference tournaments.
Ericksen has dabbled in a few different careers, including coaching soccer, teaching piano lessons, and working at a barbershop. But one passion Ericksen always had was video games. And he was good at them, too; he was ranked in the top 1% of players in League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, two battle arena games where teams of players try to destroy other teams’ bases.
He considered becoming a professional esports athlete. Pro gamers make a living by winning prize money at competitions, signing with an experienced team, or gaining sponsorships.
But instead, Ericksen decided to turn his focus to coaching esports. He provided private lessons, started a coaching company, and eventually began working at a junior college in Illinois as its newly formed esports team.
This spring, he moved to Michigan to step into a full-time position as Cleary’s esports coach.
As he begins laying out plans for the team and their new practice and tournament facility, Ericksen is trying to recruit 15 athletes to be on the esports team and is offering partial scholarships to those selected.
“There are tons of kids out there, and probably tons of kids who play video games,” Ericksen said. “Through this program, they can do what they would do otherwise – play video games – but be part of something bigger and get money to go to school.”
Cleary’s esports team will compete in four games: League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Hearthstone. League of Legends and Overwatch are team-based strategy games, Rocket League is a sports game with similar rules to soccer, and Hearthstone is an online multiplayer card game.
Prospective athletes can be of any skill level – although Ericksen said they need to have at least some experience with the game in which they choose to compete.
Athletes are expected to attend practices several times a week and team workouts with Cleary’s athletic trainers. Ericksen said he follows the “healthy body, healthy mind” philosophy, so he wants his athletes to be physically fit just like other athletes on campus.
Not only is the team a good way for Cleary to recruit students, but Ericksen is hoping to integrate academics into the team. Students interested in sports management or marketing can benefit from competing on or assisting with the team.
Construction is just beginning on a practice and tournament facility in Cleary Commons – one of the main buildings on campus. Ericksen said the new home for the sports team will include 24 computer stations and a viewing gallery with multiple TV screens for spectators to watch competitions.
Ericksen is recruiting athletes locally in high schools and globally online. He hopes to find students who enjoy video games and want to earn a college degree while competing. Athletes must be undergraduate students, but they can be of any age or gender.
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