Northern Illinois University announced today that it is among a group of 12 universities that have joined together to create the Esports Collegiate Conference.
Esports Collegiate will provide structure, scheduling and championship opportunities for its membership, with competition beginning in the 2020-21 academic year.
“We are proud to be one of the founding members of Esports Collegiate,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman. “The conference not only creates excellent competitive opportunities for our esports athletes, but also a business model for students to study as we build interdisciplinary academic programs at NIU, which will prepare our graduates to work in the esports industry.”
Joining NIU in the conference are University of Akron, Ball State University, Bowling Green State University, University at Buffalo, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio University, University of Toledo and Western Michigan University. While the membership of the ESC mirrors that of the Mid-American Conference, it is an independent entity that will operate separately from the MAC.
NIU has been active in the esports scene for the last seven years, starting with informal LAN parties in residence halls and growing into a club with more than 100 members by this past year. The organization got a major boost in the fall of 2017 when Dr. Freeman attended a meeting of MAC presidents, all of whom endorsed the creation of an independent esports conference. The following February, NIU launched the NIU Esports Initiative, which is housed in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. Around that time, the club also got a permanent home on the lower level of the Neptune North residence hall, allowing for more formal competition. Until now, however, students could only compete at the club level.
“To be part of a conference will really enhance our program,” said Esports Faculty Advisor Jeannine East. “It legitimizes esports and gives our students a chance to shine. They work very hard, and work together very well as a team, so they deserve this opportunity. We are grateful to the university, and to all of the organizers of Esports Collegiate, for all the work that it took to get us here.”
Being part of a certified conference brings with it not only prestige, but also greater support for the e-athletes. While they will not be eligible for scholarships, the gamers will have access to academic, personal support, group training and any other support needed to ensure their welfare, just like scholarship athletes on campus. The league competed informally this past spring, giving members of the Huskie esports community a taste of what is to come.
“The competition was definitely a step up in class and competing in a conference where the teams will get to know one another should take it to another level,” said Conner Vagle, who will serve as general manager for the team. Vagle attended NIU, spending three semesters playing competitively with the NIU Esports Club and one as president of the organization. He graduated in 2019 with a degree in communication, and also took classes that will be part of a new undergraduate minor in esports management starting at NIU this fall. The interdisciplinary program is designed to provide students with the knowledge needed to get a job in the esports industry, regardless of their majors.
In his role, Vagle will oversee the teams (one per video game, with 11 students total competing) and coaches, while coordinating relationships with trainers and others, scheduling non-conference matches and all other aspects of the team, freeing up players to focus on competition. He also will oversee the Esports Special Interest Community on campus.
Tryouts for the team will be held in the fall. Members of the team (which is open to all genders) will practice about 10 hours per week, Vagle said, with matches one evening each week and on Saturdays during the season. The conference will hold an exhibition season in the fall and kick off official competition in the spring of 2021. All of the team’s matches will be broadcast on the NIU Twitch channel.
For more information on the NIU esports team and the esports club, visit the NIU Esports webpage.