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First Season for UAF Esports Team

Dec 2, 2021 | Education, Media & Arts, News

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Student gamers sit at consoles at UAF’s Alaska Esports Center, which opened in March.

JR Ancheta | UAF

The University of Alaska Fairbanks entered the world of intercollegiate esports competition this semester, fielding four teams that compete in video games (or, as they prefer to call them, electronic sports) across the country.

Cyber Athletes

Each team consist of about twenty students who play games that include League of Legends, Valorant, Beat Saber, and Splitgate. Launching UAF’s first official season of competition has helped build momentum for both casual and serious gamers at UAF, says esports coordinator Mike Juell.

UAF’s Alaska Esports Center, which opened in March at the Wood Center, includes twelve gaming computers, four televisions for console gaming, and 1-gigabit-per-second internet speed. The space, which is supported by a 10-year, $500,000 gift from GCI, has steadily become a campus gathering spot for both competitive and casual gamers. 

“We’ve kind of established gaming as a communal thing that everyone can be part of,” Juell says. “You don’t need to be a dominant player to be part of it.”

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The fledgling area of intercollegiate esports competition doesn’t have tiers of competition or NCAA regulation, which makes the landscape “kind of the Wild West right now,” Juell says. 

Some teams have coaches and scholarships, but others are more loosely organized. During a recent week, the UAF team battled the University of Hawaii, a small liberal arts college in Canada, and a community college in the Midwest. 

The Nanook teams don’t have coaches, instead relying on student “gamer guides” to organize the teams. Their contests vary from single weekend tournaments to season-long competitions, with UAF athletes contending in several events during their inaugural season. UAF also offers $1,000 scholarships to Alaska gamers who were state champions at the high school level. 

The emerging visibility of the teams is a positive sign for the future of esports competition at UAF, Juell says, as well as a prominent way to connect with prospective students.

“In order for us to keep up the pace and be able to recruit students who are interested, you need to be able to offer this experience,” Juell says. “UAF has invested in this, and there’s an opportunity for everyone to get involved.”

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