NAECAD Interview: Alexander Kurtz, Juniata College Esports

February 9, 2022

Juniata College bases its program on four pillars: community, scholarship, competition, and distinctiveness. Each is a crucial element for the success of the program. They play four different games: CS: GO, Super Smash Bros, Rocket League, and League of Legends. 

NAECAD sat down with Alexander Kurtz, the current head coach of the esports program, to discuss the esports program, what distinctiveness means to them, and how the school has embraced the program. 

What is the Current State Juniata College Esports?

Alexander Kurtz: We're currently in our third operating year. After starting in 2019, we now have 37 students. This includes people from our games and our team staff, who are all students. I'm currently the only paid person, so that's kind of something that we're looking into going into year four. In addition, we are looking to pick up individual coaches for our different game titles. 

We currently have League of Legends, Rocket League, CS: GO, and Super Smash Brothers. We're also looking potentially at Halo, depending on how things shake up. We played in the first collegiate tournament but did not play in the second due to the holidays. Valorant is another one popping up that is drawing a lot of interest. 

When we started in 2019, we had five people join. When I came to campus, we had two League of Legends players and a couple of Smash players. So in 2020, while Covid kind of derailed the latter half of that, we ended up with around 20 students, and we've continuously grown over the years. 

Things are looking pretty healthy, and looking forward to growing.

How has the University and Community Embraced the Esports Program?

Kurtz: It's been fantastic since I got on campus. I didn't go here as a student, but where I went for my undergrad, they were very nonsupportive of esports. Any time I tried to bring it up to pitch to start, maybe even something, I kind of got shot down everywhere I went. And then, when I came into this position, and after I got hired within the first week, I met with the President of the University, and he was super excited. Troha has been great in supporting everything. 

We started in campus life, and I got a lot of support from there. And then, over the past few years, we kind of transitioned over into athletics with our success and everything. We are officially sponsored by the school's athletics program as a sport here, and all the coaches have been supportive. Even though we're kind of a nontraditional thing, a lot of people still say that Esports isn't a sport, and that's a debate for another time. But here at Juniata, it's been fantastic. 

One of the program's Pillars is "Distinctiveness.” Can you speak to what that means and how you apply that within your program?

Kurtz: When I first set off to create the program, I wanted to make sure that we had opportunities available for students that I didn't have. So one of the first things that we set up was a possible way for students to earn internship credit through whatever their major or program of emphasis is what we call here at Juniata. 

We've had students come in that maybe are running our social media, being our community manager on our discord, or creating all the graphics that go up on all of our social media platforms. Those students have earned internship credit towards their degrees by doing the work they would have been doing just because they love esports as a whole. That way, it gives them something to put on their resume whenever they come out of school. So I just want to make sure that those students can come out and have a much easier time finding a way in than I did.

Not everyone can fall into the situation that I did, so I wanted to make sure that any student had an opportunity to do so on top of the options we present. No matter what their background or interest was, whether it was student coaching, team management, graphic design, social media, whatever it may be. To play the games that we have here.

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