The esports program at Carthage College officially became the school's 28th varsity athletic in 2021. The first season featured a brand new esport facility, which included 24 top-tier Lenovo Legion Gaming PCs, multiple TV monitors for console play, and a professionally designed Esports Broadcasting booth. The facility was also integrated within the university's Sports Management, Game Development, and Computer Science programs.
Kevin Palmer was the first Director of Esports at Carthage hired in May 2021. He brings a wide range of experience to the program, previously serving as an educator and coach in Texas. The NAECAD interviewed Palmer to discuss the current state of his program, his biggest takeaways as a director, and his outlook on the program for the next few years,
Carthage is in its first year of actual competition, and they opened their brand new esports arena in October of 2021. The esports program took the fall to prepare for spring competition and featured forty-two student-athletes from students already competing at Carthage. They competed in Valorant, Rocket League, Overwatch, Rainbow Six, and League of Legends at the National Esport Collegiate Conference (NECC).
“We had great success in year one, and we're really proud of it. We had three titles finish undefeated regular seasons, and we made a final-four push in Rocket League and a National Championship appearance in League of Legends. Overwatch is also currently competing today in the National Tournament.”
Palmer believes the esports program is in a good spot. They have some talent coming in in the next year, and they learned a lot over the first year. They are also excited about where things are going and how they can help build esports in the Midwest.
Palmer comes from a background in traditional Sports. He mostly played esports when he was younger before college, but there wasn't a pathway at that time to do anything with it.
“I've come from Texas and coaching women's soccer and baseball down there, and the biggest takeaway is how much traditional Sports encompasses and overlaps with Esports, even though it seems like there's a big fight against that.”
He has met many coaches and leaders who try to fight the aspects of traditional sports because they want esports to be unique. However, the more you're in it, the more you realize that traditional Sports have been around for a long time, and there's a reason for that.
Palmer’s biggest takeaway is learning how to encompass those traditional sports aspects into esports student-athletes and understanding how young esports is. Especially in the Collegiate environment. He believes that esports is still in that infant stage, and he expects It to be even more exponentially explosive in the next few years.
Carthage is certain that they are not the first to be in this spot, and they do not want to come in trying to be a powerhouse. Palmer says they are looking to give students opportunities, grow them as young adults, and get them career-ready.
“The three to five-year plan for Carthage is to grow our presence in the Mid to Mid-High tier competition levels. We recruit Gold and Platinum level players and maybe Diamond, but we do not give full-ride scholarships. The scholarship money we have is very minimal, so we know what we're trying to do.”
Palmer explains that the big thing for Carthage is to find a way to recruit those students and create a culture. When they graduate, they're great and ready for their careers force and active alumni.
They also want to have level competition and have fun. They are surely going to go for some titles, but Palmer is more worried about their experience at the end of the day. Making the Carthage experience and esports one and the same rather than two separate things is Kevin Palmer’s biggest focus for the next few years.