With the likes of ESL partnering with the Big Ten Network and a growing list of U.S. colleges offering esports scholarships, college esports is fast becoming big business. As the industry professionalises more, the development of talented players through structured programs that pave clearer pathways into the industry must grow and mirror that success.
Much of the growth of the collegiate scene has come out of the United States and is very reflective of the size and scale of some of the world’s best and most well-equipped universities. The ripple effect of this growth, however, is starting to make its way across the Pacific and all the way to Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.
In a first for the country, athletic scholarships have been offered to five League of Legends players who will represent the university’s QUT Tigers in the Oceanic Challenger Series, the second tier of competition behind the Oceanic Pro League (OPL).
The program’s Esports Coordinator, Dylan Poulus was kind enough to take some time to answer a couple of questions about how the program got started, what it looks like, and the importance of community building in the college scene.
Esports Insider: So for the uninitiated, could you tell us a bit about yourself, the program over at QUT, and how it got off the ground?
Dylan Poulus: My name is Dylan Poulus, I am a QUT psychology graduate who is currently undertaking a PhD looking at the psychological determinants of success in esports. The program at QUT was modelled after the University of California Irvine (UCI) program and built on three pillars: Community, Competition and Research (academics).
The community pillar is about creating a diverse and inclusive community that brings people together over their love of esports. Our 27 person gaming arena acts as the heart of our community. The gaming arena is open Monday-Friday and hosts both free play and many events.
The goal of our competition pillar is to create a grassroots pathway into esports. The professional scene is rapidly developing but unlike traditional sports, there doesn’t exist a pathway to becoming a professional gamer. To do this we offer weekly training and host competitions. The pinnacle of this is our Oceanic Challenger Series (OCS) team. QUT was the first university in the world to have a team in a challenger series. The OCS team serves as the top of our league of legends pathway.
Being the first university in the country to have a university supported gaming arena QUT recognised the opportunity to collect a host of amazing data. QUT esports partners with faculty researches and supports them to conduct some of the first research in the world into gaming communities and the determinants of success in esports.
These pillars combine to create a deeply engaging and unique experience for both students at QUT and members of the greater Brisbane arena.
ESI: When it came to securing funding through the university’s Elite Athletes Program, how did the funding come about? Was it a case of lobbying with the Vice-Chancellor, or through other means?
Dylan: Through the support of the QUT Sports Coordinator, Emily Rosemond, the QUT sports advisory panel decided to recognise esports as part of their elite athlete supported sports. This meant that we were able to apply for Vice-Chancellors Elite Athlete Scholarship. The Vice-Chancellor wanted to support the growth of esports and show that QUT is committed to supporting this growing industry. We were able to award 5 elite athlete scholarships to the 2019 OCS team members.
ESI: With full access to the benefits of the Elite Athletes Program, how has your high-performance approach shaped the way the team trains and develops, both in-game and out?
Dylan: The QUT Tigers OCS team are supported in the same way that other elite athletes are. The team has access to a high-performance support team including a sports psychologist, dietitian and, a strength and conditioning coach. The team and their high-performance support team are managed by me. They have weekly sessions with the strength and conditioning coach to improve both fitness and strength. Both the sports psychologist and dietitian meet with the team individually and as a group to make sure they are supported as much as possible. Furthermore, the team through the elite athlete program, are able to rearrange their class timetable and assessment to ensure they are able to balance their university and gaming lives.
ESI: Thus far, what have been your biggest lessons and challenges in running the programme? Do you think others can learn from these?
Dylan: I have learnt so much from starting QUT esports, it has been a life changing experience. The biggest piece of advice I could offer to others looking to start a program in esports is to focus on the community. The amazing community at QUT esports is what makes the program so special. Focus on building a diverse and inclusive community, off the back of that your program will flourish.
ESI: What do you see as key to the sustainability of the programme looking forward?
Dylan: A key to sustaining an esports program is creating a great community culture. If the administrators focus on removing toxicity and support the growth of a community then the program will flourish.
ESI: Where is the team currently competing and where can people find you?
Dylan: The QUT OCS team will compete each week on Wednesday or Thursday night from May the 1st.
Games will be streamed on Twitch through Riot Games OCE. You can follow the program’s progression on Facebook or Twitter and you can follow me on twitter at @DylanPoulus.