With in-person intramurals still on hold, WWU Intramurals offers free-to-play esports instead.
Western Intramurals is hosting free-to-play esports for fall quarter. The esports leagues started on Oct. 5, according to the WWU Intramurals’ website. Participants can join leagues to play Rocket League, FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K20, Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart.
Intramural esports were offered by Western for the first time in spring quarter, said Caitlin Sommers, assistant director of sport clubs and intramurals at Western.
Esports leagues became a way for WWU Intramurals to keep students engaged and involved in intramural programs remotely after classes were moved online, Sommers said.
Sommers said she wanted to provide a way for students to stay connected to each other and still have some level of healthy competition to take part in.
Brandon Keller is one of the Western students signed up for the FIFA league this fall. When he saw that WWU Intramurals was offering FIFA, Keller decided to sign up.
“I don't play competitively, but I'm pretty damn good at FIFA,” Keller said. “So I figured I'd hop on.”
Keller said he has been a longtime intramural soccer participant and he likes to play pick up soccer. It has been hard to play pick up soccer games due to COVID-19, so the FIFA league might be fun, Keller said.
This fall, 34 participants have signed up, whereas 124 students signed up in the spring. Sommers said she thinks the lower number of participants is partially because there was no in-person information fair for WWU Intramurals to inform new students, who make up a large chunk of participants.
“That's such a huge opportunity for us to talk about our programs with those students who have never experienced them before,” Sommers said. “And so we didn't have that opportunity this year.”
Sommers said there was a virtual information fair this year, but it didn’t draw as many students as an in-person information fair.
Esports are online competitions in different games, according to Sparrow Buerer, a former competitive Overwatch player for Digipen Institute of Technology. Buerer played in the Tespa Overwatch Collegiate Championship.
“Any game can be esports,” Buerer said. “So basically, I would count esports as every single game that's ever come out.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of large in-person events, esports leagues were focused on replicating the physical sports experience, Buerer said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were investing in stadiums and having teams travel for tournaments to replicate the physical sports experience, Buerer said. Now, most competitive esport competition is done remotely.
“Now, everyone’s remote, whether they like it or not,” Buerer said.
WWU Intramurals is hosting the esports leagues with Mission Control, an online communication platform for hosting recreational esports leagues. Sommers described Mission Control as similar to Discord, another popular online communication platform.
On top of being the software that the esports leagues run on, WWU Intramurals commissioned Mission Control to set up the leagues and connect the league members to each other.
“The platform's nice because students are given a specific date and time that they are scheduled to play their game,” Sommers said. “But they have the ability to message their opponent in the Mission Control app and reschedule for a time that works better for both of them, and they have a full week to complete that game.”
WWU Intramurals is looking into the possibility of hosting an online tournament as early as fall quarter, Sommers said.
According to responses WWU Intramurals has received on their social media, the overall reception of the leagues has been positive, and students are happy the leagues are being offered for free, Sommers said.
WWU Intramurals is still trying to figure out the best way to promote their virtual leagues to students, and they are looking for feedback on games that students would like to play, Sommers said.
Registration for fall esports closed on Oct. 4. If students are still interested in signing up, they can email the intramurals team at firstname.lastname@example.org, Sommers said.