KOKOMO, Ind. — Competitions for Indiana University Kokomo’s latest sports team are coming soon to a screen near you.
The co-ed eSports team plans to stream its competitions to screens around campus, allowing Cougar fans an inside look at their skills.
“We’re hoping to get a ton of support,” said Coach Nick Liegey. “We compete just like any other sport, but with video games. It will be intense, but fun for anyone watching or participating.”
So, what is eSports?
Short for electronic sports, it’s a team-based video game competition with athletes in uniform, led by coaches, and cheered on by fans. Teams play against each other through leagues, tournaments, and events. The Cougars play in the NECC, an eSports conference that sponsors regular season competition and championships and includes more than 300 colleges and universities, including Bethel University, Butler University, DePauw University, Huntington University, IU Bloomington, Indiana Tech, Purdue University, Purdue University - Fort Wayne, and Valparaiso University.
IU Kokomo’s team includes 20 players, competing in Rocket League, Overwatch2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
For Jackson McCullough, a freshman from Arcadia, joining the team gave him a chance to continue competitive sports after 15 years in soccer.
“Playing eSports fulfilled my desire to be part of a team, and gave me a community to be part of,” said McCullough, a team captain in Rocket League.
Gavin McCrosson, Portland, and Sean Sonnenberg, Kokomo, are co-captains for Overwatch 2. Sonnenberg previously played eSports at Western High School.
“I thought it was pretty fun, and decided I wanted to do that in college too,” he said, adding that it gave him a community to belong to as a new student.
McCrosson said like in other sports, they practice, watch film, and prepare for future matches.
“Most of the time it’s solo practice, trying to get the muscle memory down,” he said. “We also scrimmage with other schools and play competitive matches to get your rank higher to match what you will go up against.”
He’s found people are surprised that eSports is a varsity sport.
“Some are really confused by it, or excited for it, and think it’s cool to get to play at the collegiate level instead of just gaming at home by yourself,” he said.
The Cougars are currently 8-4 for the season, with wins over Anna Maria College, University of Missouri, Robert Morris University, University of North Dakota, and Stevenson University, Missouri State University, Bradley University Syndicate, and Concordia University.
For now, competition is virtual, and some athletes are playing from home. Liegey said they plan to set up play in the Student Activities and Events Center until the new eSports arena, part of the Innovation Hall construction in the Kelley Student Center, is ready.
“Hopefully we will get everything set up soon so people can come watch us play,” said Liegey. “We’re going to build something that’s going to be really special for these students and the school.”
Liegey said games will be streamed on Twitch, a game streaming platform, with a streamer and two commentators providing color commentary and play-by-play information, helping viewers understand what they see.
He hopes to grow the team to 30-40 students in the next year or two and add more games. He also anticipates adding a developmental team for those newer to gaming.
“We’re going to do this right, and we’re going to do something special for IUK,” he said. “This is a dream for me. I’ve been gaming since I was 4 or 5, so to be able to coach it as a career is awesome.”