By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
When Christian Konczal came to Missouri Western to help launch an E-sports program in January 2020, he couldn't have known what was coming next.
A global pandemic shut schools and businesses down only two months later. This also meant the suspension of sporting events and activities for a significant period of time.
One activity that was safely able to continue was E-sports.
"Our competitions are fully remote," Konczal said. "We weren't affected in the way that our brothers over on the football or basketball teams were. Their seasons got really thrown out of whack. For ours, it just meant that the end of our league championships weren't in person."
But even last year, as the Griffons' E-sports program was just getting off the ground, they had no team competitions before the pandemic. This marks only the second semester of having varsity teams.
Former Missouri Western president Matt Wilson and Konczal both worked previously at the University Akron. Together, they launched a successful E-sports program for the Zips, and brought that vision to St. Joseph.
"(President Wilson) and the previous administration were very much the impetus behind this idea," Konczal said. "The local community definitely bought into it. They've seen the value, and ever since, we've been showing the value."
The biggest challenge COVID-19 presented to Missouri Western's new E-sports team was, how do you spread the word and recruit members when campus is shut down?
When campus reopened this past fall, Konczal was pleased with the enthusiasm and participation, as the Griffons entered their first semester of varsity competition.
The opening of the Griffon E-sports Arena inside the Blum Union definitely helped with that.
"This is very much meant to be a program to help engage students and give them a reason to stick around and make friends in-person," Konczal said. "Get them out of playing alone in their dorm rooms with their friends back home."
Konczal has about 30 students enrolled in the program this semester. The Griffons are competing in four leagues - Rocket League, League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite. They also have two club leagues - Super Smash Bros. and Valorant.
Practice started a week before the current semester began, with competition starting in late February. Konczal said there's a steady stream of students in and out of the arena practicing every day, with each league playing 8-12 matches on a weekly basis.
"During the season, we're all competing to earn our slot in the championship at the end," Konczal said. "That's typically when prize (money) support shakes out and all of that."
The championships can involve the top 12-24 teams from across the country in each league, with the season typically ending when the school year does, or shortly thereafter.
With E-sports still being a new concept on the Missouri Western campus, the team is excited to open their E-sports arena to the entire student body starting Friday, with an introductory ceremony set for Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Konczal hopes the arena will be a place for all Griffon students to enjoy gaming and just overall camaraderie.
"All Missouri Western students, faculty and staff will be able to use this facility for free," Konczal said. "We really want to give a home on campus, and serve 100 percent of the gamers. Over the past few weeks, students have been able to walk through and see the equipment, what the space looks like. The excitement has just been palpable."
The E-Sports Arena also features a broadcasting suite and production room, which will allow students to produce YouTube shows, podcasts and other projects.
While large, in-person gaming tournaments won't happen for Missouri Western this semester, Konczal is just thankful the entire Griffon community will be able to learn more about the E-sports program up close.
"I'm just so excited," he smiled, "just to be able to invite the entire campus into what we're building here. The biggest focus this semester has not only been getting the team up and running, but getting the arena up and running."
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