COLUMBIA, Mo. – When Arabella McEntire plays the team-based, multiplayer video game Overwatch next year, she won’t just log in as one of the best players in the nation; she’ll play as a Mizzou Tiger.
McEntire, a freshman majoring in chemistry and health sciences from Monett, Missouri, is MU’s first recruit for a new esports program that will launch next fall. Mizzou is one of the largest universities in the nation to launch such a program by joining the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Esports is the fastest growing sport with a global audience reaching almost 500 million fans annually. The new team will be led by interim coach Kevin Reape, who works in Student Affairs and is a world-ranked video game player.
“This new team will provide yet another opportunity for students to find their niche on campus,” said Reape, who is ranked in the top 10 percent of Overwatch players in the world. “Offering gaming opportunities for top-notch players provides another opportunity for our university to stand out, and I’m confident we can build a team that will be competitive.”
The new team will practice and compete in more than 5,000 square feet of dedicated space in Center Hall, making it one of the largest university gaming facilities in the nation. An esports scholarship program also is being developed.
Esports and other competitive gaming content go above and beyond the average video game, requiring gamers to use in-depth strategy and dedicated teamwork.
“When I was a student at Mizzou, I knew people who were gamers like me, but gaming wasn’t celebrated and definitely didn’t feel like it was a hobby recognized by the university,” said Greg Miller, Missouri School of Journalism alumnus and video game expert now working as the CEO of Kinda Funny. “I am extremely proud to see my alma mater providing such an up-and-coming resource for students — so people like me will have a team they can aspire to join and a community they can call their own. I think this is a significant step for MU in reaching out to all kinds of students.”
Providing this opportunity to students will not only expand MU’s wide spectrum of interest areas but also place the university as a frontrunner in the esports industry. Prospective students have been asking about esports for years, said Chuck May, executive director of student recruitment and admissions at MU.
“We are excited for the great potential this program and team will provide our campus,” May said. “We hope by offering this program, more students can pursue their passions while studying at Mizzou.”
The National Association of Collegiate Esports, or NACE, is a member-driven organization that focuses on the positive development of esports programs at the collegiate level. The organization advocates for members to create varsity programs that include scholarships for its participants and a strong institutional commitment to the sport.
“We are very excited to be adding the University of Missouri as a member of NACE,” NACE’s executive director Michael Brooks said. “Missouri represents not only one of our largest member institutions, but also an institution with a strong brand and reputation in traditional athletics. The support and expertise that will be provided by the University of Missouri will undoubtedly strengthen esports programs across the entire country.”
McEntire, who has been playing video games since she was 3 and is the daughter of computer programmers, said she is delighted to be the first player named to the Tigers inaugural eports team.
“I’m really looking forward to the team aspect — learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and figuring out how to work best together as a team,” said McEntire, who noted that Overwatch teams typically are made up of six players. “I’ve already really enjoyed my time at Mizzou, but this is going to make the experience that much more amazing.”