Nick Sutton is Wayne State College's esports coordinator and a well-seasoned player himself. He has pursued esports in his personal life as well as academia for years now and he has hands-on coaching experience. Today, he's in charge of WSC's esports program, helping the college build from the grounds up and add to its list of accomplishments. In our conversation with Nick, we take a look at what his duties are and what the particular focus on esports is at WSC.
Q: Nick, can you run us through Wayne State College's esports program, what your focus is and how far you have come so far?
A: We are a 1st year program just finishing our second season in the ECAC Esports League. Our focus as a program is to provide an opportunity for students to take their gaming to the next level. With a new state of the art esports arena called “The Den” students can try out for a team and compete in several different intercollegiate competitions.
So far, we have had over 150 students interested in our program and consistently have about 50 players on our program roster. We field teams for Valorant, Rocket League, Fortnite, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., and League of Legends. In our first ECAC Esports season we had 2 teams make it to grand finals, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Both teams finished runner-up in their respective titles.
We had 9 out of 11 teams make playoffs and were awarded the Inaugural ECAC Esports Commissioners Cup. The Commissioners Cup goes to the ECAC Esports member whose esports program achieved the most broad-based success across all nine game titles. I have no doubt that this program will continue to find success as it continues to grow here at Wayne State College.
Q: You have been supporting esports for at least three years now. Can you tell us a little more about how esports has changed on a college/school level over the years you have been involved?
A: When I started getting involved in collegiate competition back in 2016, most programs were still at the student club level. This included the now national collegiate tournaments that are hosted for the big esports game titles such as Rocket League, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.
“Our focus as a program is to provide an opportunity for students to take their gaming to the next level.”Nick Sutton
Back then it was organized by student club presidents and students were still competing from their dorm. Over the course of the next 3-4 years, I watched club teams grow into full scale programs that included full-time staff members, dedicated coaches, and top of the line esports arenas.
This progression was expected based on the amount of growing interest I had seen with each year that passed. It seemed that every new freshman class had more and more players that were looking to get into collegiate esports. In addition to that, several high school leagues are now starting to form, offering varsity, JV, and club teams. This is still just the beginning.
Q: Can we expect college esports to get bigger?
A: Without a doubt, collegiate esports IS the next big thing. The spotlight was moved to esports during the emergence of COVID-19 which I believe also helped raise awareness of what esports is and the values it has to offer a campus community.
However, it was only a matter of time before the esports wave was going to sweep across the nation. We are still on the front end of the movement, which baffles me because the collegiate esports scene is already booming with different leagues and national competition.
“Without a doubt, collegiate esports IS the next big thing.”Nick Sutton
Each season there are more schools creating esports programs and joining leagues such as the ECAC or NACE who are both leading organizers of collegiate competition. I have watched the national competitions for select game titles evolve over the past few years as well. CRL (Collegiate Rocket League) now hosts their own national tournament with a prize pool of $75,000 in scholarships.
The prize pools are growing for all game titles, making the stakes higher, and the competition heavier. I envision seeing some of the best esports professionals emerge from collegiate esports in the next 5 years.
Q: Many of the competitive challenges these days reward scholarships, has this been an incentive to players to perform better?
A: Ultimately, I think yes, it does provide the incentive. However, after meeting several different players, what drives them the most is their competitive mindset. Although some may not see it this way, esports players are athletes and they want to win no matter what the stakes are.
It takes a lot of dedication, time, and practice to reach the top rank in a game and compete consistently at a high level. It becomes more about the game and less about the money. Any opportunity to provide scholarships to players, however, is incredible. Whether it be a prize pool or a scholarship to compete for a university, each can be extremely rewarding to a player.
Q: What is the main challenge to scaling any esports program in your opinion?
A: One of the most common challenges I have both experienced and seen in other programs is receiving the initial investment to build a space or an arena. With collegiate esports there is no quick financial ROI, but rather a new opportunity for current and incoming students. It can be difficult to explain to a university’s administration office why you would need 100K+ for an arena so students can play video games.
As of right now that is still the state esports is at, and it is important that we continue to spread awareness of esports and define the difference between competitive and casual play. Luckily at Wayne State College the administration was immediately on board when the idea was brought up, however for some student clubs it can be difficult to gain traction and get the funding necessary to build a space or compete in leagues that have dues.
“One of the most common challenges I have both experienced and seen in other programs is receiving the initial investment to build a space or an arena.”Nick Sutton
This is a critical factor when trying to recruit players for collegiate teams, as most of them now are looking at esports programs and what they have to offer. Having a full-scale program with an arena most likely grabs a larger amount of interest than a student-run club that competes from their dorms.
Q: Do the skills picked in WSC's esports program have real-world applications beyond esports?
A: Absolutely, we try and maximize our player and community involvement with the program. We have student worker positions that provide hands on experience with graphic design, team coaching/management, stat reporting, shout casting, and streaming. There is a growing demand in all these areas in the esports industry. As esports event production continues to refine itself, several event organizations are looking for individuals with experience in these unique fields.
Q: What do you want to see next as part of your college's program? A: We are proving to be extremely competitive already as a program. Wayne State has a top-tier player pool to choose from amongst its student body. As a coach, I would like to see scholarship opportunities arise for the recruitment and retention of these high-level competitors. To maximize campus involvement, I am also hoping for an expansion of our esports arena within the next few years. Being able to provide more equipment allows for more teams to compete, and more opportunities for players to get hands-on experience within our program.