By Nina Tabios
Academy of Art University’s esports program was recently listed among the top 12 in the country by Tespa, a North American collegiate esports organization. The announcement, sent out via Tweet on Sept. 10, is a huge vote of confidence for Academy Esports Director Michael Witzel, who put a lot of legwork into getting competitive gaming off the ground in 2016.
“It has been a lot of hard work and long hours to get the program where it is today,” Witzel said via email. “We still have a lot more room for improvement, but I am very proud of what we have achieved so far. The balance of community, competition, and education really is what makes our program so great.”
Being named by Tespa as one of the best institutions supporting collegiate esports means that the Academy and the 11 other schools are now invited to compete in its newest challenge, the Overwatch Collegiate: Varsity Series. Formatted as a round-robin bracket, the tournament is very similar to the other year-round competitions Tespa hosts but rather it is meant to highlight exceptional teams as well as the program that fosters them (though still undefined for the Varsity Series specifically, Tespa has previously awarded scholarship money to its big competition winners).
Universities were invited to apply and were judged based on factors like program health and stability, infrastructure, staffing, community collaboration, and career development. Witzel is proud that the Academy’s esports initiative checks off many of those boxes since being established three years ago. What started as weekly intramurals in the 180 New Montgomery game lounge transformed into hosting sponsored competitions and establishing an esports production course with the School of Communications & Media Technologies to teach students how to broadcast and stream live tournaments. And though under the School of Game Development, Witzel insists that esports at the Academy is open to everyone at the university.
“It is the students and alumni from all over the university that make up our competitive teams, volunteer and work studies that have worked very hard to make this program what it is today,” Qitzel said. “Being recognized as one of the top 12 esports programs in North America validates that we are on the right track. More and more people and colleges see what it is we do and try and emulate us. It is a great feeling being a leader of collegiate esports.”