University of Alaska Fairbanks invests in competitive gaming for students

A beige blocky building with a parking lot in front and a half dozen flags
Signers’ Hall at UAF (Creative Commons photo)

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is expanding opportunities for students to participate in organized video gaming, or Esports. Esports are played on video game consoles like PlayStations, or computers.

Before this summer the university did have a recreational Esports club, run by students. But starting this fall, the university will dedicate more resources to the program. 

Esports coordinator Mike Juell started his new position this summer. Juell moved to Fairbanks from Kodiak, where he taught middle school and directed the high school esports team. He has a master’s in education. 

While they’re not as mainstream as football or soccer, Esports are quickly gaining popularity. Varsity college teams compete in large tournaments in games like League of Legends and Overwatch. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, over 170 universities nationwide have esports teams. Juell said the program developed in response to student interest at UAF.

“UAF realized this was something our students wanted and our students are so excited and hyped,” Juell said.

In response, the university is offering its first academic course about esports this fall. It’s also renovating part of the Wood center into an esports gaming center. The finished center will feature TV’s, console games, and computers.

According to Juell, students have a lot to gain from engaging with esports. For one, students can get scholarships for their esports achievements. Gaming also prepares students for careers in STEM.

“We live in a very technological world so having that upper hand on having that background is super helpful,” Juell said.

According to Juell esports also provide life lessons.

“If you like lose in a video game and get a game over screen, you’re not like, well, I’m never going to play this video game again. You want to try again, you immediately want to be successful. And I think that that’s just a helpful skill in life, to have that resilience,” he said.

Juell said participation in esports at the university is growing, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now, he’s looking toward the future — talking with students to find out how many will approach it as a hobby, and how many are interested in competitive play. He has big plans for those upper-level players.

“We want to compete with other schools. Maybe we can get like a fun rivalry with UAA and throw down in some games,” Juell said.

But Juell wants his program to serve students interested in all levels of epsorts play.

“At the end of the day, we’re playing games and having a good time,” he said.

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