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Joining us on this episode is Dr. rita armstrong, the Director of nursing For bryant & stratton college.
Bryant & stratton college haS 19 ground campuses in New York, ohio, virginia, and wisconsin, IN ADDITION TO an online campus. They are accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Lee Doubleday: Joining us today is Chris Vahl, the market director of high school admissions at Bryant & Stratton College. Today we would like to discuss e-sports. E-sports is a form of competition using video games. It often takes the form of organized multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually, or as a team. As I understand it, Bryant & Stratton has a pretty robust e-sports team, so we couldn’t think of anybody better to speak with us on this topic than Chris Vahl. Chris, can you briefly explain what e-sports is and how similar is the program to other sports programs?
Chris Vahl: Yeah. I sure can, Lee. So, really, to kind of keep it in simple terms—and a lot of people are familiar with what e-sports is—but we really view it as competitive video gaming. We’ve got males and females that can compete with one another on the same team. But at the end of the day, it’s really important for me to, I guess, communicate it’s video gaming, but it’s competitive. So there’s trophies on the line, potentially prize money down the road for individuals and teammates or whatnot. So that’s kind of really what it’s honed in on.
Lee: So, as I understand it, your team has won some awards recently and you’re nationally ranked. Can you kind of talk a little bit about your recent success?
Chris: Yeah, I love to do that. I love to brag about our successes here with e-sports. So, this past year has been a really positive uptick for us in that we won three national championships. And first one was Madden. And then we also won our Hearthstone Championship. And then about a month ago, we won NBA 2K. So pretty, pretty exciting for us. It’s creating some buzz within our state, here in Wisconsin, and for the e-sports program and for Bryant & Stratton as a whole. Very exciting that, like I said, we’re able to kind of sell that to students and parents in that it is competitive video gaming, but we do have a very good team and that we won those three championships.
Lee: So you say competitive video gaming. I’m guessing it’s similar to other sports programs. Are there practices scheduled throughout the year? I mean, is it a team? Is it something you try out for? What does it look like?
Chris: Yeah. Great question. So yes. There’s both team and individual competitions. There are structured practice times. And for our high school students, it’s flexible in that we have some that they can do the gaming component from home, remotely—say, if we have a late-night practice, they can do it from there. They do have scheduled team competitions against some of the other colleges. I guess just to throw it out there—to let everyone know who we are in terms of who we compete against—so, we’re part of the NJCAAE. So that’s National Junior College Athletic Association of Esports. And then we also belong to NACE, which stands for the National Association of Collegiate Esports. So, it’s kind of cool in that these practices lead up to competitions and we’ve competed against really, you know, larger universities. My list of recent ones we competed against, we’ve got Purdue, Marquette, Ohio State, UC Irvine. All those practices and competitions, obviously, you get to play some other larger Division I schools.
Lee: Now, you said for some of your high school students. Now, is this something a high school senior can join the team before they are enrolled at your school? Or is this something for your students only?
Chris: Yeah. Really good question. We have a combination of nontraditional students and then we do have high school seniors who are being recruited for the next year. So, it would all be students who enroll here, but we’re recruiting kind of simultaneously. We’ve got a mix of—which, I guess if you take a look at it from that standpoint, the dynamic’s different than other sports. I mean, we’ve got students on the nontraditional side of the house in their 30s to high school kids, high school seniors—17, 18 years old—that are on the team. So there’s good diversity, not only with age and demographics but then also the male-to-female ratio I mean, we’ve got a good mix of both. And the other cool layer to this layer is that we have some athletes of ours, who not only do e-sports, we have a number of them who’ve competed in, say, volleyball or soccer teams or baseball teams. So, when they’re not in season, they’re able to hop on there. It’s kind of a really unique but cool dynamic in that we’ve got a lot of, I will say, lots of diversity on the team.
Lee: Wow, that’s really cool. That actually brings me to my next question, which is, are there certain seasons for certain games or competitions that are coming up or—? Most other sports are broken up into seasons. Like soccer plays in fall and spring. How does this kind of work with e-sports? Is it all year long?
Chris: Yeah, it’s pretty much a year-long commitment, I’ll say, for our students. And granted, there’s peak times. We’ll go to where the larger competitions are. For example, the Madden Championship that we won—that was December-ish. Hearthstone was pretty quick after that. I believe that was like a January time frame. And the NBA 2K just wrapped up. That was probably about a month ago. So, you’re pretty much talking year-round. And then we’ll usually go practicing in competitions, too. When our coaches have an understanding of where we can excel and where we have a potential to win, they’re generally the ones that we’ll sign up for. But yeah, different than other sports. I mean, there are seasons, but as you can tell, based on the tournaments are, what games there are, whatever strong games are for us as a team, those are the ones we’re going to compete in.
Lee: That’s really cool. I want to go back to something for a second. We talked about high school seniors. Let’s say I’m a high school senior and I’m really good at Madden. Are there competitions that I can compete in for a scholarship to attend Bryant & Stratton College for the e-sports team?
Chris: Yeah, great question. With us being in the NJCAAE and part of NACE, e-sports is different than a lot of the other sports in that they can combine their academic money that Bryant & Stratton could offer them with an e-sports scholarship. Now, how they get there, typically the best route is, we have our coaches who will assist with recruiting. And then what they like to do is they’ll compete against one of these high school seniors. And then they kind of have a debriefing on, “Here is, in terms of e-sports money, what we can help you qualify for.” Kind of a cool aspect. And that, similar to a basketball, a soccer program, baseball programs—where there’s athletic money on the table—e-sports is eligible for that. And they kind of get—it’s a similar feel on that. There’s a legitimate tryout. You want to be a part of our team, we’ll have you sit down with the coach. We’re going to have you game and see what your skill level is at. And from there, then we can determine if you qualify for athletic scholarship.
Lee: It’s so cool. I feel like this is sort of an emerging new program across the United States, and it’s becoming more and more popular. And are you recruiting on Twitch and on all these—? I mean, the coaches go out and recruit students. Where do they recruit students from?
Chris: Yeah, so we see—primarily, I would say with our nontraditional population, Twitch is the primary platform. Again, it kind of blows my mind when—I’m like, well, I’m thinking 17- or 18-year-olds, selfishly because that’s our demo. But then the gentleman who won our NBA 2K in Madden, I mean, he was a legitimate NBA 2K professional player for the Milwaukee Bucks. So, I don’t know all the ins and outs of that, but we have him on our roster. Obviously, that helps out quite a bit in terms of other recruiting because his Twitch has such a grab. People are on it. He live-streamed his Madden and NBA 2K, and he’s an online student here for us. But I think that helps with the 17- and 18-year-olds. And on our side of the house, with the traditional student—I’m fortunate enough that I’ve got somebody who’s a high school rep that goes into high schools for us. And he’s got a pretty extensive gaming background. So, he’s a volunteer coach for us.
Lee: Got it.
Chris: So, he kind of helps scrub that side of the house.
Chris: And he’ll fully vet them. He’ll schedule them with the coach to game, and they kind of come to an understanding. But I will say, since we’ve got this guy in our team who’s won these two national championships for us—I mean, he’s a legit professional—it’s kind of creating some good buzz in the community for us. It’s pretty cool.
Lee: That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, if I were somebody who enjoyed playing NBA 2K, I’d just want to play with him. And so that’s interesting to me. I think it’s interesting, too, that what you said about Madden and NBA 2K having more of an older demographic. That actually doesn’t surprise me because the old heads have been playing Madden since 1994.
Lee: They’ve had a long time to play Madden. So that’s very funny. That’s cool. All right. Cool. So according to Statista, the global e-sports market is valued at just over $1.08 billion. Now, according to sources estimates, the global e-sports market revenue will reach almost $1.62 billion by 2024, suggesting that the industry is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Why do you think this is such a rapidly growing industry?
Chris: Prior to learning about this, Lee, I would have said I have no idea. I’m pretty lost and it’s still pretty—it’s somewhat incomprehensible at times. But from being on the other side of this now, and us just having a pretty good program, I can tell you—I think having the dynamic to compete similar to like these other larger sports like a traditional basketball baseball, where there’s a team aspect—
Chris: I think we’re seeing more and more kids who are taking those transferable skills and they can game. And I even see that just from the communication standpoint of these kids who are doing our PC games with their headsets, they’re still doing a team setting and they’re communicating to one another. It’s similar like what you do on a court and on the field. So, I think they’re able to find that avenue of being able to do that. I think that’s part of it. I think the other piece, too, is the amount of money for potential students who, maybe down the road, they want to go professional. I think they see that with like a ninja, for example, or these other guys who make it really big—
Lee: Oh yeah, right. Celebrities.
Chris: —and the amount of dollars with these Twitch followers.
Lee: Oh, yeah.
Chris: I think it kind of funnels up and the last part—what I see, and different from 20 plus years ago when I was kind of doing some of the gaming—is just the network. With social media and being able to get it out there. I think it’s that instant competition/feedback where you can be all over the world competing. And not only for us as a college to have the ability to win a national championship—which is pretty cool, you get a trophy for those—but potentially to get prize money. I think all of those aspects—and still, again, it blows my mind with how much the growth is there. And even just from an interest standpoint, we have several kids who—they get four years of eligibility. I guess that’s something I’m backtracking a little bit. But with us as a college, you get four years to play, so you could craft yourself, get yourself a degree. And if your goal and dream is to do this professionally, you could continue on, whether that be on your own independently or from a team standpoint or take it to the nationals.
Chris: I think all those factors kind of add up to one pool of how this is booming. It’s unbelievable, though. And I can even see that from the younger kids to the older kids. It’s being able to have that instant draw, I think, to go global with it. And then just from a scholarship standpoint, there are parents who legitimately laugh when I say it—“We can get scholarships for my kid to play video games at your school?” Yes, you can.
Chris: I mean, it’s—you’re going to be able to get your education, but—there’s also the ability to get your degree, but also to be able to game for it for, like I mentioned, potentially four years of eligibility.
Lee: Right. And I could see where, if I were someone who wanted to become a professional gamer—why not try out for the team, be a part of the team and, like you said, sort of part of a network, and piggyback off the college’s network and team while I get my degree, just to build up my following and practice my skills and see if this is what I really want to do and, at the same time, also be getting a degree. I think it’s a win-win.
Chris: Yeah. This is directly from our director here in Wisconsin. His pitch, if you will, when he’s working with recruits—and he’s shared this with me—like, “It’s great. Everyone wants to get to that professional level.” But he always encourages them, like, “Make sure you have your background,” meaning, get your education to back you up. It’s a very slim population that can get to that level—not to discourage students, but. I think that’s a good peace of mind that students and parents have as they’re coming here. I mean, they’re not just going to game, but this comes right from our director’s mouth. So, get yourself that education as a backup, and then you can take those skills and potentially pursue that route.
Lee: Right. Why not do both? You know. So let’s say I’m a high school senior and, like I said, I’m really good at video games. How do I try out for the Bobcats?
Chris: Yeah. So, I think step one is, we have a website dedicated to all of our sports. I really encourage students to go there: bscbobcats.com. And we have an e-sports recruitment form. So, when students go there, they fill out a form, and there’s a questionnaire based on their skill sets and what levels they’re at or whatnot. That automatically goes to our coaches to kind of create the buzz, the initial buzz. And then from there, you have somebody from admissions who would reach out to them and then coordinate with the coach to have a sit-down, whether it be virtually or in-person, and then have them game. So, it can be pretty seamless. Step one that I always tell everyone, Lee, is go to that recruitment form at bscbobcats.com. And then, they follow up with admissions to communicate that, “Hey, I’m interested.” And we give them the list of all the games that we compete in. And then, they kind of get vetted from there in terms of if they’re able to make a roster and what kind of game that they’re interested in.
Lee: What was the website again? BSC?
Chris: Yup, bscbobcats.com.
Lee: B as in Boy, S as in Sam, C as in Charlie, bobcats—like the cat—dot com.
Chris: Yep, you got it. And there’s a recruitment tab. It’s really easy to navigate the recruitment form for e-sports. And then you have the questionnaire that will walk you through your skill level, your age, your interest, stuff like that. And that gets vetted right to our coaches to have a follow-up conversation.
Lee: Okay. Now, this is another question. Do you host scholarship competitions? So, Chris, do you host scholarship competitions? I mean, I’m assuming something like, I’m really good at Madden, so I enter the scholarship competition for Madden. And there’s a bracket, and I’m going to have to win my way up to the top in the first place, gets a scholarship to go to Bryant & Stratton College. Is that something that you guys do?
Chris: Yeah. We monitor and we’ll watch a lot of those competitions, especially with area high school students. We’ve got a couple of people that are pretty dedicated from the admissions side of the house that work with our local e-sports directors throughout the state. So, when there is a competition, we coordinate that with our coaches to not only keep our eyes on that but also looking in terms of recruiting from a talent standpoint to get those. Now that, knock on wood, COVID is starting to ramp down, we’d like to be doing some more on-site competitions. That’ll be the plan. In the meantime, though, with e-sports, we can do a lot of stuff virtually. And we have done some virtual competitions, but I think the plan would be to be hosting more and then having a very tight-knit relationship with our e-sports directors that—I think, from an organizational standpoint and just our state alone, which probably—I’m sure this holds true to the other states for Bryant & Stratton—we probably got about 40 to 50 dedicated programs right now, so there’s a lot of opportunity there. And I think a lot of that is brand awareness so we can work with those coaches to be a part of those events as they are happening.
Lee: Right. Yeah. And I know that you have a world-class studio—I guess? I don’t know. What would you call it? Gaming center?
Chris: Yeah. So it’s our—you’re right—beautiful e-sports lab for here. We built that. It went live last year. It’s amazing. I mean, I can’t speak any more of it. It’s got—
Lee: Yeah, I’ve seen pictures. It looks really cool.
Chris: Yeah, 24 gaming PCs, and then we’ve got two PlayStations that are used for gaming. It’s top-notch. And when we do get to those national tournaments, the cool thing is, depending on which game they are, we stream those live in there—
Lee: Oh, cool.
Chris: And then we have the other teammates will be in there. It’s open to students to come and watch, but then we’ll put that out on Twitch so they can come and watch on there. But it’s very top-notch, I will say that. And I know a lot of our other campuses have really stuck a lot of good dollars and values and investments—and not just say we have it. I mean, from the gaming PCs themselves to the monitors to even just kind of the schemes and how we have things set up. They’ve done a very nice job to make it a legitimate—to your point earlier, like other sports, similar to a gym or a field or whatnot—I feel like it’s a very top-notch facility.
Lee: That’s fantastic. All right, Chris. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. We talked about the growing realm of e-sports. We talked about your e-sports program there at Bryant & Stratton College. If you’re a high school senior or even an adult student and you’re really good at video games, it doesn’t hurt to try out for the Bobcats team. And you can get more information on becoming a Bobcat at bscbobcats.com and click on the recruitment tab. And then, you’ll be able to get in touch with a coach and potentially talk about trying out for the team. Thank you, Chris. I really enjoyed your time today on Imagine America Radio. And it’s been nice talking to you.
Chris: Thanks, Lee. I appreciate it.