Michigan State’s student and college esports community continues to grow

What started as an interest in the Wii turned into a passion for the competitive esports community for Michigan State junior Dylan McCarroll. He is a computer science major, with a minor in game design and development, and president-elect of MSU’s Esports Club Association.

McCarroll began playing several games as a teenager that continued into his college career, despite the disapproval of his high school in Warren, Michigan.

“My high school’s gaming clubs were actively discouraged and frowned upon. It was very depressing to know that my high school staff thought what I was doing was a waste of time, when in reality I didn’t care. never felt more passionate about a hobby and a community than esports,” said McCarroll.

Michigan State has a strong focus on growing the esports community in many ways – as a club sport, in research, and as an academic opportunity. The esports club, on the other hand, is a great way to meet friends and compete all in one.

Payton Shaffer

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Payton Shaffer

“For me, it was such a simple thing: eating with friends. Many MSU esports clubs like to celebrate after their club meeting with food, and this after-club outing holds a special place in my heart,” McCarroll said.

Esports’ sense of community is the same as other MSU club sports and a major reason people join.

“I would say influenced by friends and other people, and influenced by wanting to watch sports and maybe a lot of combinations of those two could drive people into esports,” said Yiming “Skylar” Lei, PhD student in MSU’s Department of Media and Information.

MSU club esports teams have success with players in the highest ranks of games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Rocket League. The Michigan State Counter-Strike Club team has won $20,000 in prize money over the past year. Since the start of the MSU Esports Club Association, the club has grown from two graduate students in 2016 to over 2,000 members this year.

The Michigan State Communication Arts and Sciences Building will host a tournament, The LAN before its time, with several different games to raise money for charity. The tournament is March 19 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Not only does MSU develop the club aspect of esports, but it also has several research studies that look at the effects of video games and esports on communities. Dr. David Ewoldsen, Lei’s adviser at MSU, and his colleague researched cooperative gameplay and how it can actually increase prosocial behavior instead of aggression, even in violent games.

“[Gaming] makes you see others as part of your ingroup member, which is a social psychology term as opposed to an outgroup member. So even if you play violent games that can increase your aggression, ingroup status mitigates that, dampens that aggression, and turns it into prosocial intentions,” Lei said.

This study essentially says that gamers see other gamers as “members” of their group and this creates community rather than aggressive competition, even when playing violent video games.

“I often feel like it’s the game that counts. If we develop, we design games in a way that people focus and work with others rather than against others, we could have a very different gaming experience,” Lei said.

The third aspect of esports that MSU puts a lot of effort into is academic opportunities for a career in esports.

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Payton Shaffer

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Payton Shaffer

“Michigan State University currently has the highest-ranked game development program for a public university in the nation,” said Ryan Thompson, acting director of esports for MSU.

In recent years, Michigan State has created an undergraduate game development specialization within the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. MSU also plans to add another competitive gaming-grade computer lab. This lab would allow for active game development, competitive gameplay, and live streaming.

MSU faculty, including Thompson, have also worked to teach students about video games and issues that can arise in esports, such as navigating contracts and using brand logos for merchandise.

Thompson teaches practical esports skills like streaming live gameplay, live music, and live presentations on multiple platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Live.

“I teach elective courses on live streaming, which is closely tied to the emerging esports movement. Students taking MI 334 are learning what’s happening as people begin to turn private gaming into public entertainment and how this transformation radically alters our understanding of modern media,” Thompson said.

With all this development, the future of esports is still unknown but with huge potential.

“The real difference with regular sports is the accessibility of space. It doesn’t matter your gender, age, height or physique, if you can play the game, want to get better and are passionate about all of it, you’re welcome,” McCarroll said.