By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Luke Theis was named the interim director of the e-sports program at Missouri Western State University this past fall.
Theis had previously served as a grad assistant coach on the e-sports team, and was a punter on the Missouri Western football team in his undergrad years.
"I'm kind of just trying to give our student-athletes and coaches we do have the tools to succeed," Theis said during an appearance on KFEQ's The Hotline. "Just supervising and helping out. You know, if they have troubles that come up, I try and assist them in any way I can."
As a former student-athlete, Theis is hoping to bring some of what he learned as a football player into the gaming arena, as each player has a physical activity requirement and practice regiment.
"I was a punter," he said. "So, you try and perfect your punting, you want to perfect your movement so it becomes muscle memory. That's kind of the goal of practices and stuff like that. We also do study tables, too. I came from football, so I brought a lot of that over."
Theis takes over the e-sports director role previously filled by Christian Konczal, who left this past summer after serving as the University's first e-sports director and head coach for two seasons.
Missouri Western started team-based competition in select video games in the fall of 2020 and dedicated a large E-Sports arena in the Blum Student Union full of gaming computers, which are open for use to all students. There was an official ribbon cutting for that arena this past March.
The team also hosts its events and competitions from that arena.
"That's open for all students to walk in and play video games freely," Theis said. "(The arena) is very much viewed as a recreational space. As would be a gymnasium or a weight room."
The varsity players also have a training room for practice, muscle memory exercises and things of that nature.
E-Sports was one activity for Missouri Western that could go on in 2020 after things were shut down in March, and after the fall sports season was postponed. Competitions were fully remote. For e-sports, the pandemic mostly meant league championships couldn't be held in person.
The Griffons' E-sports program was just getting started in 2020, and they had no team competitions before the pandemic. The fall of 2021 marks just the third semester of having varsity teams.
The team has been busy, competing in an Overwatch tournament in South Carolina the weekend of Halloween.
They also had a 24-hour livestream on Twitch on Oct. 28-29 from 4 p.m. - 4 p.m. All proceeds from that event went toward KU pediatrics, thanks to Extra Life - a non-profit which takes proceeds from charity gaming events and sends them to branches of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
"I mean, it's just a lot of events for 24 hours that students get to partake in," Theis said, "that's all being streamed on Twitch, and donations throughout the stream go to Extra Life."
The biggest challenge COVID-19 presented to Missouri Western's new E-sports team in 2020 was, how do you spread the word and recruit members when campus is shut down?
When campus reopened last fall, the Griffons entered their first semester of varsity competition with a pretty strong response. The E-sports Arena at the Blum Student Union just opened this past spring to the public, which helped as well.
"If we have the foundation of our community, then it really helps our program a lot," Theis said. "Then, we can get more students and get more support and more people interested and that's really what we want - showing what e-sports is about and showing what we have as a program."
There were about 30 students enrolled in Missouri Western's E-sports team this past spring. The Griffons compete in four leagues - Rocket League, League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite. They also have two club leagues - Super Smash Bros. and Valorant.
"Rocket League is pry the (closest game we have) to a sport," Theis explained. "It's basically car soccer. So, you have a ball on a field and you try and score it into the goal, and you have cars driving around kind of racing in a way, but they're really just trying to score the ball into the net just like soccer."
Missouri Western's e-sports program have varsity teams that compete with multiple schools in many different tournaments and events throughout the school year. They also have club teams for players who may not have made it on varsity during tryouts, but can still hone their skills and work on their game.
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. The team takes a break, like everyone else, over the winer holiday.
The E-Sports Arena on Missouri Western's campus also features a broadcasting suite and production room, which allows students to produce YouTube shows, podcasts and other projects.
There are also scholarships available for MWSU e-sports athletes, student-coaches and managers, with scholarships possibly coming for the team's production staff at some point.
As for employment opportunities after college, Theis says professional gaming is a goal for some on his team, but being a part of e-sports opens so many more doors in the real world than just playing games for a living.
"A lot of them are interested in professional organizations as well," Theis said. "Job opportunities there as like a manager, social media person, marketing person. Being their play-by-play announcer, stuff like that. So, there is a professional side to e-sports that students have a lot of interest in."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.