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Published: March 30, 2021

Written by: Stefan Velikov

Alec Mueller is the new head esports coach at Ashland University. He is a graduate of the university’s esports program itself, and someone who is passionate about both sports and esports.

Our conversation with Alec revealed that he is deeply invested in esports as he understands the challenges that players face on a competitive level, but also sees the many opportunities that a degree in esports provides.

Ashland University is ambitious about the competitions it takes on, and its involvement in various events means that the university needs the right people in the right places to create the environment necessary to nurture esports talent.

It’s not just about gaming, though, as Alec believes there are various ways esports graduates can realize their full potential in the real-world.  For his part, Alec is there to support players and help them find ways to excel.

He’s knowledgeable about esports and what defines success and he is definitely looking to continue the university’s tradition in esports.

Q: Alec, you have just stepped into a great new position as Head Esports Coach at Ashland University. How excited are you about this and what does the future hold for the program?

Thank you! I’m incredibly excited to be leading the esports program at Ashland University. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to move from a player within the program to filling the shoes of the head coach position. Josh Buchanan, the former head coach did an excellent job piloting the program from the ground up and I only have him to thank for not only the opportunity to get into collegiate esports but for all the progress that he made that I am now able to build on.

Q: It’s interesting that esports coaches have become such valuable assets to any program. From your unique position, do you reckon an esports program should focus on training successful video gamers or prepare an individual for a career of esports in general?

I think the correct answer is both. Not only should an esports program provide support for players to continue improving their talents to potentially a professional level, but it should also prepare them for a career in esports in other departments too besides as a player. There are many other opportunities to work in esports outside of being a professional player and we want our student-athletes to be aware of this especially if working in esports is a goal of theirs.

Q: Can you walk us through the competitions in which Ashland University is planning to take part in 2021 and what you hope to achieve?

At Ashland University we compete in Fortnite, CS:GO, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Each game title competes in different collegiate leagues such as, Activision Blizzard Collegiate, PlayVS, Collegiate Star League (CSL), National Association of Esports (NACE), American Video Game League (AVGL), Unified Collegiate Esports Association (UCEA), and National Collegiate Esports (NCE). We have many incredibly talented teams here that have been ranked highly in the nation in the past. I would love to see them continue to play at a high level and potentially contend for some of these league titles in the future.

Q: You have a personal connection with collegiate esports having been shaped by Ashland University. Do you think esports can continue to grow its popularity and eventually match mainstream sports? Is this even important?

I do feel a personal connection with collegiate esports and esports in general. Before joining the program I used to play college soccer and run track so I have always been involved in athletics in some way. I feel that esports is no different from a sport like soccer or football. It takes just as much hard work and dedication to become the best at a game title as it does for any other sport. I believe esports will continue to grow in popularity and estimates have shown that it will continue to. I would love to see esports match mainstream sports someday and I think it is entirely possible.

Q: How do you think the esports ecosystem has changed over the past years. Is it more welcoming to novices and is competitive gaming the only realization offered to esports students these days?

Some of the new competitive game titles such as Valorant or Fortnite are more welcoming to novice players than some of the more long-standing titles such as CS:GO or League of Legends. Some of these esport titles have competitive players with 10+ years of experience which stands difficult for new players to match. But competitive gaming is not the only realization offered to esports students these days. For example, a decent amount of my student-athletes are also computer science majors. They can use the combination of their degree and their experience on an esports program to potentially work with game developers and finding ways to improve the overall esports experience.

Q: Do you use esports coaching to teach specific skills that can be used in other walks of life just as well?

As a coach it is important to be the support the players need. Helping them with their time management skills is something that I prioritize. It is really important that they realize that everything comes in moderation and that overworking themselves can be detrimental to their success. I do my best to make sure that my players are maintaining healthy habits and keeping their academics and well-being as their priority. Student comes first in the title student-athlete.

Q: Is frequent and consistent practice a part of being successful in esports and do you expect it from the teams you help?

Most of the teams practice two times a week for about 2-3 hours. This is a great time for the teams to make discussion and discover the specific things they want to work on as a team. Setting out team and individual goals at the beginning of the season is really important as well. This way they can continue to check on their progress during practice and find ways to keep improving and getting closer to their goals. It is also a great time to review any film or gameplay to find mistakes and prevent them from reoccurring. They can also spend this time reviewing gameplay of the potential opponents and come up with different strategies to help them prepare for their match.

Q: If there were one thing you can change in college esports, what would that be?

One thing I would love to see happen is more in-person LAN events in the future. With COVID-19 bringing a halt to any sort of large in-person tournaments, I would love to be able to travel with the team and compete in in-person tournaments again as soon as it is permissible. Some of my most memorable moments as a player with Ashland University was competing live in front of a crowd at DreamHack Atlanta and several other LAN tournaments. Online streaming events truly don’t compare to the special feeling of playing in front of a crowd so I hope that my players can experience this again whenever it is possible.

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