In a nod to the academic and life skills that stem from student involvement, Heartland Community College will soon become the third higher education institution in Bloomington-Normal to offer a varsity esports team.
“I think that the perception of video game playing is changing a lot now that we're seeing esports teams pop up, because it's not just a solitary experience that you're doing at your home at your personal computer,” said Heartland Director of Student Engagement Skylar Guimond.
As for Heartland’s board vote, to Guimond’s surprise, “It wasn’t a hard sell.”
“It sounds like a bunch of kids playing video games. But really, it does align with a lot of our mission, vision and values. In our value statements, we talked about utilizing futuristic possibilities and knowing that this really is the future of college athletics,” said Guimond.
Also in support of the program is HCC’s Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Sarah Diel-Hunt.
“It's a program that is definitively meeting student demand. Our students here on campus are calling for it. But even more than that, what we find is that when our students come here – and a lot of these are first time college students – if they get involved in an activity, their likelihood of success skyrockets,” said Diel-Hunt.
Heartland faculty believe students can acquire crucial life skills while participating in esports.
“Leadership qualities, communication and teamwork are some of those valuable skills that they can transfer to a job. Sure, maybe they're not all sitting behind a computer playing a video game, but in the future, they're surely going to be sitting behind a computer managing teams and organizing the work that they do,” said Guimond.
Set to launch in the fall, Guimond and Diel-Hunt will spend the next several months finding a qualified coach and recruiting interested members from the campus community. The varsity team will consist of 12 students who will play “League of Legends” in competition with other NACE collegiate programs.
One thing is for sure: This isn’t a boy’s club.
“We're focused on inclusion here. I view that as our responsibility as a college. We've had lots of programming for women in technology really attempting to break stereotypical boundaries for programs,” said Diel-Hunt.
So far, Heartland esports athletes have competed against teams from Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan, but a program expansion could put Heartland’s team on the map, a move colleges are making across the country. Esports is now offered by more than 600 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada, according to Heartland.
“We're still in the early phases, and it's growing – there's enough room for that to be still housed in my office. But it could grow to the point of having a full director of esports or having an esports office,” said Guimond.