UAF Joins National Esports League

Oct 25, 2022 | Education, News, Telecom & Tech

students playing esports

UAF esports gamer Chris Kim plays Valorant at the Alaska Esports Center.

Leif Van Cise | UAF

While the UAF Nanooks hockey team competes as an independent, the students who compete in video games (or, as they prefer to call them, electronic sports) are now part of an intercollegiate league.

Esport Is a Sport

UAF is the first university in Alaska to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and one of only a handful in the western United States. NACE formed in 2016 and has more than 170 members.

“Having a robust esports program is something that today’s students expect from higher education institutions,” says Owen Guthrie, UAF vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management. “Just like with more traditional athletics programs, students learn all kinds of valuable skills in their extracurricular activities. Teams that are able to compete and win at the highest levels must communicate effectively, work together cohesively, and refine their social and emotional skills, as well as master difficult intellectual and strategic challenges.” 

A year ago, UAF fielded its first competitive esports season playing from the Alaska Esports Center, which opened in March 2021 in the Wood Center. The facility 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.

This year, for the first time, UAF allocated $20,000 to scholarships for esports team members.

“Joining NACE and introducing scholarships to our teams is the first step in reaching a higher level of competition in this growing competitive field,” says UAF esports coordinator Drake Richards. “We are breaking new ground, as a college in Alaska, and making sure we stay ahead of the curve.”

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Teams practice once a week or more, Richards says. They compete in at least one match weekly. Matches are streamed live on the UAF esports Twitch channel, and recordings are available on the UAF esports YouTube channel.

Desktop Legends

students playing esports

The Nanook Esports Blue Team competes in a game of Valorant at the Alaska Esports Center on October 19.

Leif Van Cise | UAF

UAF hosted tryouts this fall to field one team each for the games Beat Saber, Rocket League, and League of Legends and two teams for Valorant. More than thirty esports players are members of UAF’s league teams. Tryouts for the spring Apex Legends season will happen early next year.

Now that UAF has joined NACE, Richards hopes to grow the program, with an eye on putting UAF teams in the developer leagues. These elite leagues, analogous to Division I in traditional sports, are run by the companies that develop games.

“I am especially excited about the opportunities this brings to Alaska high school students,” he says, noting that a student doesn’t have to come from a big school to become a top esports player. “Anyone can play with anyone; it’s a totally even playing field. This could be really big for the state.”

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