Wake Technical Community College launched its first esports program, The Eagles, during the spring semester of 2021. Wake Tech’s Esports Coordinator, Chase Sommer, explains the challenges of launching a collegiate esports program, especially during a pandemic.
NAECAD: Can you tell us more about Wake Tech Esports and the current state of the program?
Chase Sommer: Wake Tech Esports just started eight months ago. When I got there, they had a lot of great Legion Lenovo computers and support. They knew they wanted to get esports going but there was a disconnect when it came to building a community on Discord and Twitch. I pretty much set up the Discord server, organized teams, picked the games, helped design the jerseys, coached the teams, held tryouts, did the social media, etc.
It was a lot of hard work [to build the program] and it was all done remotely. We weren’t able to use those gaming computers and the space that was provided. That was a challenge, but gaming is online-native. If you tell a gamer the only way they can play online, they’re not going to quit. That’s the only way they can play, so it’s not a big deal. We got over it.
The program is still super, super new. We are trying to bring on coaches for the next semester. I’m not actually good at any games, so I’m not a coach in the sense that I know the games in detail, but rather in terms of communication and accountability - soft skills.
NAECAD: How has the program navigated the pandemic and kept the students engaged?
Chase Sommer: We started in the pandemic, so that’s all we’ve known as an organization thus far. The way we navigated it was that everything was online. We held tryouts, practice, games and streamed it all to Twitch — all online. One advantage of esports is that it’s like remote work. You can do it wherever as long as you have a computer and an internet connection. Cheating is harder to enforce, but it wasn’t a huge issue for us.
We use Discord to keep students engaged. One thing I do to keep students engaged is to post a question of the day. Another thing we do is to link other social media from other esports organizations onto our Discord server so we can stay informed. We watch videos together and comment on things. Obviously, we played games together, too. Discord allows us to update players on league rules, too. If anything, the most challenging thing was when we could finally play in person.
NAECAD: What are some of the priorities for the Wake Tech Esports program this Fall semester?
Chase Sommer: Our priorities will definitely be to bring in coaches for VALORANT, Overwatch and Rocket League. Esports is unique in how you hire coaches. You have to make sure they are actually professional because many people in the esports industry are younger.
Also, raising the standards of esports, at least for us. What I mean by this is that the standards are low, and we want to make sure that no one is coming to practice late, everyone is coming to every single game and that we are also keeping our opponents accountable. In the first semester, probably 80% of our games were rescheduled. You can’t have that if you want to build an audience and a sports program. It’s annoying. We’re lucky we were online. But imagine if you had parents, family, and everyone driving to a location only to have the game canceled. That’s not going to work.
Most student-athletes have never competed on a team before, so the simple concept of wearing a jersey, showing up and warming up is completely foreign. Things that are obvious in traditional sports aren’t obvious in esports. We have to teach them and be patient.