Western Michigan University decided to invest in a growing industry with its new WMU Esports Arena, located in the former Little Theatre, on the university’s East Campus.
Esports consists of players and teams competing against each other in video games of fighting, action or shooting, such as Street Fighter, League of Legends and Overwatch. These competitions can be on a local, state, national or, in some cases, international stage. Tournaments are often held in person and online through live streaming services.
WMU doesn’t have a varsity team yet, but it does host events for its student-led Esports@WMU Club as well as local competitors. Tavian Napier, 31, WMU’s esports coordinator, sets up and manages these events while providing coaching to the competitors.
Why is esports worth watching?
I think that there’s a lot of different things that people can get out of it. Many people who watch competitive games don’t even play the games themselves. I would say it’s pretty similar to any other sport that people watch. There’s a drama to it — rivalries are built and there are player storylines. And you’ll enjoy it if you appreciate mastery too, because anyone who plays games know that it takes a lot of work, a lot of practice, competence and discipline, to get to a professional level and win matches consistently.
Plus, it’s really flashy. It’s really cool if you watch the audience, because they get really into it.
How did you get into video games?
The first game I remember was the first Mario Bros. I know there were other games, but the most prominent one that I recall really trying to beat was Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 after that.
I grew up around video games, so it was kind of just part of my life. I dealt with a lot of depression, and gaming was like a really big refuge for me. It did a lot for me. I found role models in certain kinds of characters. It was my outlet for frustration, a source of significance as well as friends and camaraderie.
What made you go from playing casually to esports?
It was a long journey. The first big change happened when I got into a fighting game called Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I’d been playing competitively in Halo (a first-person, science-fiction shooter game) and games like that, but, like, nothing ever really came of it. I didn’t have what it took to get to the professional level or anything, and I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until I got a friend into Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and taught him how to play it and he started getting better than me.
There’s this thing called a “limited mindset” or a “fixed mindset” where you have limited thinking about your ability to get better, like you think you have a skill cap and you’ve already hit it. And that’s where my mind was.
In that game I could look at the hours that my friend had logged and see that in training mode he had 10 times more hours than I did. That’s when it clicked for me. My mindset around the idea of practice and skill shifted. I needed to actually, like, practice. I needed to have more confidence and hone what I wanted to get better at. That took me on a weird journey of personal development, competitive gaming and entrepreneurship.
What does your position entail?
There’s a lot on the planning side of things — doing research and reaching out to game publishers to make sure that we can do everything properly. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to hosting a tournament. It’s not just plug and play, so to speak. Different games have different rules for what you can do. I kind of have a general responsibility to oversee anything that encompasses the production and the planning. Part of it is also educating non-gamers about what this (esports) is and what the benefits are of it.
I also work with the WMU esports club to teach them how to put on their own events and streams. Their job is to learn how to put on their own show from me so that we can focus on doing other things with the arena, whether it be something for younger gamers or hosting larger tournaments.
What are your goals for the arena?
A lot of colleges do go varsity, and that’s something that we would love to see. But our biggest priority right now is figuring out how we can turn this into an educational tool, not so that we can have these players and send them off to compete and make money off of them, but how can we learn about this ever-growing world that’s still very much solidifying and isn’t completely as regulated as normal sports? We want to educate people and have that be something unique to WMU.
— Interviewed by Adam Rayes