Mizzou’s newest athletes won’t be bruising each other in the football stadium. Instead, they’ll spend hours in front of the screen tapping furiously on keypads.
The University of Missouri-Columbia is joining a growing number of colleges and universities adding competitive video gaming — commonly called esports — to its roster of varsity sports. Mizzou announced last week it will form an esports program beginning in fall 2019.
There are 112 schools in the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Maryville University has brought home two national championships in "League of Legends" gameplay. Missouri Baptist University also has a program.
St. Louis Public Radio reached out to the first coach of Mizzou esports, Kevin Reape, who also works in the university’s marketing department, to talk to us about the rise of esports on college campuses.
Ryan Delaney: How did esports come to Mizzou?
Kevin Reape: At Mizzou, we’re just looking for programs that we can bring to the university that will speak to students in the next generation, something that we can do differently that everybody would be excited to have on campus. And esports is one of those things that is getting bigger and bigger every single day.
Delaney: There’s a stigma or a perception about video games and the people who play them. Explain to me why this should be taken seriously as a sport.
Reape: I think that over the last few years with esports and this kind of legitimized competitive aspect behind video games, we’re seeing more of the physical side of it and how a person can prepare their body and their mind to be as good they possibly can. And I know some people are going to roll their eyes at that and think it’s crazy. But at the end of the day, there are people in this that are the best at these games, and it is because they prepare themselves to be the best. It can be draining. And it’s important for anyone participating in these games to make sure they have a strategy for themselves to make sure they don’t over-practice, that they get enough sleep, have the right diet and take care of themselves.
Delaney: How do you get esports to stand out at a school that also has larger, more traditionally popular sports?
Reape: We say “show me” a lot at Mizzou, and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do, is a year from now evaluate what we’ve done and look at the success we’ve had. How do we make a program where a student comes to Mizzou to play video games, but if we treat this like sport, where they have mandatory study hours, minimum GPAs, attendance standards in class? And they’re doing everything that they need to do to be the best possible student and figure out how to be the best possible gamer as well, I have no doubt they’ll graduate in four years and have a degree and a plan in place, and they can look back and say video games are a big part of what got them to where they are.
Delaney: This is a sport so far dominated by smaller schools, including Maryville University here in Missouri. Where does Mizzou fit in?
Reape: We’re excited to be one of the bigger schools to dive into this. It’s awesome to see what Maryville has done. I think they helped lay the groundwork. We’re less than 10 years out from esports looking like a traditional sport with division rivals and traveling to compete. Thousands of students are going to be watching this and excited about it, and that number is just going to go higher and higher. On the larger, Division I-school level, we are definitely in the infancy stages, but it is going to mature very quickly all across the country.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney