Until I did this interview, I didn’t know you could get a college scholarship competitive playing eSports.

But that’s exactly what Cleary University – along with a number of schools throughout the country – are offering.

So I sat down with Jared Erickson, Varsity eSports Coach at Cleary University.

Below you will find an automated transcription of a conversation on the local news podcast, Daily Detroit. You can listen to the episode in the player on your screen, or subscribe wherever podcasts are found:
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First off, Jared, welcome to Daily Detroit. And secondly, why, why eSports?

Jared Erickson: Well, if you’re talking about me, I’ve been doing this pretty much all my life. But if you’re talking Cleary, it’s too big to ignore in Michigan. A lot of the big schools here Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan State, a lot of the other smaller four year schools, they all already have programs. So Cleary is actually kind of on the backfoot here, but they’re investing quite a bit of money in this program. And it’s here because it’s popular, and because it’s co-curricular as well.

Daily Detroit: Why is it co-curricular?

Erickson: So there’s a lot of aspects that go into eSports, from production to marketing. Whether it be digital or in person, even sports training, psychology, there’s a lot of avenues into eSports in terms of a professional field. So, it just made sense to bring it here with Cleary and business degrees, which is what Cleary specializes in giving out. I can really benefit from just being involved with a program like eSports because there are so many more opportunities with all the professional organizations in North America.

Daily Detroit: Yeah, can you talk about how that’s grown because it has been on my radar a ton as of late with venues, with competitions. I’m understand there’s people who are full time, professional eSports players now.

Erickson: For the sake of simplicity, we’ll use the League of Legends scene. Which is a five on five video game played on PC as our example here. And it’s been around for about eight or nine years developed by a company called Riot Games. 

And their professional scene was originally kind of started by their players and just a passionate staff. And it’s grown into something that is played worldwide and garners more views for the World Championship than the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Stanley Cup combined.

Daily Detroit: I feel like there’s a real generational gap here. I feel like I’m kind of on the edge. I, you know, before we started recording, I mentioned I am from that late 90s era of video game playing. And in the intervening 20 plus years, it has just blossomed into what everybody does.

Erickson: Yeah, you know, we kind of grew up similar there. Video gaming, it’s never really been something to be proud of. But now, because it’s come to such fruition, it’s so lucrative, and there’s so much money in it, with everything being you know, virtual, and you know, these in person events selling out, you know, Madison Square Garden, or the Staples Center, things like that, it’s, it’s really just become something that makes sense. 

You know, there’s maybe a hundred professional players in North America for League of Legends alone. And all of those guys are making north of $70,000, or $80,000. And all of these professional teams have Academy teams as well. So they have a triple A scene. So it really just creates a lasting environment, just like any other sport, you want to look at whether it’s professional, or maybe a little more or less known, it’s there. 

And because of that, colleges have started taking note and they’re like, alright, well, let’s get on top of this, let’s, you know, produce some varsity programs and get kids coming to the school so that they can have that opportunity to play and get educated.

Daily Detroit: It’s something looking at the materials and things that also can be more gender inclusive in a variety of ways. Because as I understand it in eSports, you can be whatever gender on the same team. And then it also strikes me how many kids have a system at home, things like that they can hone these skills, it’s a little different than say, you know, I think about sports, like hockey, which cost a ton of money on an ongoing basis to participate in. And that actually puts up a lot of barriers for people of different economic backgrounds.

Erickson: Right? Well, I mean, there is a barrier to getting kids into eSports, especially if you want to use the most popular platform, which is going to be PC, a starting gaming PC that can be done as a project with your kid, you know, you build it together, it’s fun, you can learn something that can run you anywhere between six and $800. But if you want to invest in a machine that’s going to have lasting quality, you’re going to be looking between, you know, 12 and 1800. But the cool thing is because it’s become so mainstream, there’s innumerable amount of companies out there that help build you your PCs, and they can even offer financing so it’s, it’s really easy to get into I’ve I was never involved in ice hockey personally. But I can’t imagine there’s too many companies out there that say, all right, your kids need pads and sticks and skates and pay 150 bucks a month for the next seven months and you can have it now.

Daily Detroit: Well, not only that, but then you’ve got ice time. You’ve got those costs that go over time because you break sticks, you’ve got league fees, and that adds up for all levels of sports even like things like baseball and you know, if you want to play in leagues and basketball, things like that all those fees start to add up really quickly, especially with the increase of schools that are Now pay to play instead of just, you know, included with your kind of taxpayer funded like ride if you will.

Erickson: Right, right. I think online gaming is a you’re familiar with it as much as I am, I grew up playing, you know, Halo and Call of Duty and stuff online. And that’s kind of your school of hard knocks now, because people are relentless on the internet. And, you know, we try to get rid of that toxicity that very misogynistic, just unpleasant atmosphere in a varsity sport, you know, by making it varsity and really just competing against colleges are creating an avenue where people probably feel more comfortable playing than just logging online and playing, you know, against anybody and everybody that has a computer at home.

Daily Detroit: There’s the NCAA, but you all have the National Association of Collegiate eSports. How big is that? And what does that look like?

Erickson: So NACE is one of the many, many third parties attempting to get involved in collegiate eSports and run the leagues. Because there really is no clear divisions, you know, there’s no D, one D, two D, three schools for eSports. If you’re going to a school that has an Esports program, and they happen to be D one, then good for you, you’re at a D one school that has eSports. And don’t get me wrong, those schools think that they have D one, athletics programs for eSports. But really, it’s pretty even keel across the board, they may have some more resources for recruiting, but teams can be equally competitive across the board, because it’s so hard to identify hot recruiting grounds, because there’s so many millions of people that play the games. 

And it’s really accessible, like you had mentioned before. So when it comes to it, you know, my little clear University team could eventually take out Michigan State or the University of Michigan and take wins off of them. It just comes down to, you know, who has better teamwork. And ultimately, it comes down to the coaching, which is why universities are investing in coaches and not saying, Hey, you know about video games as a teacher, why don’t you just advise this program? It’s not a club. It’s a varsity program.

Daily Detroit: So what does an eSports coach job look like? compared to like people in their heads, I’m sure listening to this go? Well, I’m used to the idea of like a football coach or a baseball manager. What’s kind of unique to an eSports coach?

Erickson: I think a lot of these kids that end up playing in the programs, they really do come from diverse backgrounds. But there’s also a large chance that maybe they never had a chance to participate in traditional athletics, whether it was just interest, or the physical barriers that go along with it. And if they’re playing on a team for the first time, it’s going to be up to that coach to really get them up to speed on what being a part of a team means. And what competing means. Because, you know, if a kid isn’t used to competition, and I say, kid, you know, 1819 years old, that’s still pretty young. If they come in expecting just to sit down and play video games for fun. You know, that’s a byproduct of playing video games. But at the varsity level, it’s not a joke, you’re here to compete. And even if your team doesn’t win, you have to be able to handle that and the coach has to offer guidance in that specific situation.

Daily Detroit: So how big of a team does it look like for Cleary? How many athletes and what is your goal with that.

Erickson:  We’re gonna start out with 15 athletes spaced across four different titles games, same way, the language that’s used in naces titles, so the games we play, two of them are from a company called Blizzard, which some of you may be familiar with the game World of Warcraft, everyone’s heard of it, it’s been the subject of many parodies. But Blizzard makes a game called Hearthstone, which is a card game, and then make a game called Overwatch, which is a more cartoony, less realistic first person shooter, and that game is six on six. So we’re looking to recruit just one player for each role on the team across the board. So we’d have seven athletes between those two games. And then our other two games, one is owned by Riot Games, the aforementioned League of Legends game, that’s a five man team. So we’re up to 12. And then we throw a rocket league in there as well, which is a three person game. It’s soccer with cars, which is owned by Epic Games, that gets us up to 15. And we do have the possibility of running junior varsity, so we could have 30 athletes at the school this year, if we had enough interest.

Daily Detroit: And I understand that you’re also putting together an arena as well, which is something I’ve heard, like rumors that people were gonna do at some point, but you’re actually diving in and doing an Esports arena, it’s gonna be 1700 square feet, what is that going to look like?

Jared Erickson: We don’t have too many details to give out at this time. It’s gonna be awesome. There’s going to be 24 stations in there. This specific setup, we’re not entirely sure about because we haven’t actually started constructed on the space were waiting to get back the architecture plans from the city. But if those words mean anything, it means we are taking this very seriously and this is going to be a really really cool space. 

The space is also going to house my office, which will double is a broadcasting studio. So all of our games will be live, people will be able to watch them. It’s really just exciting the potential of this, because there’s really limitless possibilities on how we can make this what I can tell you it will not be is it will not be 24 computers in a boring room with nothing else going on.

Daily Detroit: How important is that live stream component? Because I’ll tell you, I know so many people who are now streaming on Twitch, there are channels even that I follow because I’m a creator, but I’m not a I’m not a gaming creator. But there’s some great channels out there, like Alpha Gaming and others that talk about how to stream around this stuff. But how big is that component to all this where the world can basically see these people compete?

Erickson: Outside of having the athletes on the team, it is the next biggest thing, absolutely. eSports in its definition is competitive video games, played by professional players, or in this instance, collegiate players, collegiate athletes for an audience. So if you’re not broadcasting the games, you can’t have an audience. I mean, that’s it. Broadcasting is an absolute must. Because if you don’t get that exposure, you’re not going to have sponsors, no one’s going to watch, there’s not going to be an excitement around it. And being able to produce a quality broadcast is something we’re focused on as well.

Daily Detroit: Well, I could appreciate that. My original background is in television andnews and sports. In fact, I was really impressed the few times I’ve been to eSports events. You have a couple of announcers you have you know scoreboards, you have everything that would go into say somebody who’s a little bit older might see in a baseball game or a basketball game or something. But it’s all game specific. And there’s just so many more dimensions to it. It’s real television, for sure. Like it’s not made up in any way, shape, or form or chintzy.

Erickson:  I mean, look at the the new fan controlled Football League that’s being live streamed on Twitch, that’s their platform that they’re using, it’s a legitimate platform, it’s an alternative to television.  

And when it comes down to it, that’s the home of Esports, that’s where they have all of it at. 

The people that are producing these programs or putting them out — If you’re watching it for the first time, and you’re over the age of, you know, say 40. And you’re maybe a little unfamiliar with this, I like to use this comparison a lot. If I was to sit down and watch a match of cricket, it’s a sport I am not familiar with in the slightest, I would have no idea what’s going on. 

But if I sat down with somebody who knew the game and had played it or watched it for a long time, they’d be able to explain it to me, and you can kind of approach eSports with the same idea, you know, have somebody who knows the game with you, if you’re interested in learning about it, and they can get you up to speed so much quicker.

Daily Detroit: So what are some of the timelines on your stuff? And how can people get involved?

Erickson: Well, timelines, we’re looking to start construction here within the next couple of weeks, that construction is being led by our main guy here on campus that handles all of the renovations and all the constructions he was in construction for over 25 years very capable. 

We’re looking to have it done by March and have the construction finished so that we can start moving in our PCs, our desks get it decorated. And we’re really hoping to get this thing up and running by the summer to run some events for high schools, tournaments for them where they can come and play test on our machines. 

And it’ll kind of be like a limit test for us to see what the machines are capable of doing when we do start running the Collegiate Athletic portion of it, which will start in the fall. 

But you know, for people who want to get involved. And the biggest thing you can do is tell your your kids, your son, your daughter, your niece, your nephew, your neighbors, let them know that if they have kids that are interested in playing video games and getting a athletic and academic scholarship, that clearly is a very, very good option for them.

Daily Detroit: There are scholarships. That’s a big deal.

Erickson:  Absolutely. I have scholarship funding approved.

Daily Detroit: What level of scholarship is that? 

Erickson: Right alongside the rest of our athletics, we look for scholarships, and don’t quote me on this because I’m still learning. I’ve only been here about two, three weeks still getting up to speed on things. But to my knowledge will cover 50% of tuition, possibly more. That’s going to include an athletic and academic scholarship. If you have a GPA of 2.0 or higher, you are going to be eligible for academic scholarships. And anything you miss out on an academic I can more than likely make up for with the athletic portion.

Daily Detroit: If people want to get in line for that, how do they do it?

Erickson: Well, if you go to the Cleary Cougars website, which is our athletics website, just ClearyCougars.com or you can go to cleary.edu you’re going to find a application form to apply for one of the titles that I mentioned before. 

Again, that’s Hearthstone, Overwatch Rocket League, League of Legends. You’ll go on to the website, you’ll pop down the sports drop down menu and click on eSports and then in the top right corner after you click click on that you’re going to see a little more plus button, that’s going to be another drop down menu. 

And that’s going to show you all the different games and all the games have specific recruiting forms to them. So it’s important that you fill that out. And you give me as much detail as you can in that so we know what you’re going for. Now, if you’re a parent, or just somebody who thinks you might know someone who’s interested, they can also just go through queries website and fill out a general application or interest form that’ll get kicked over to me as well. 

And we could start the dialogue because that’s really all it takes is us talking you telling me you’re interested in and there’s a very good chance you can be playing for clear this fall.

Daily Detroit: Jared Erickson – Cleary University, thank you so much for your time today. 

Erickson: It’s been my pleasure.

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