Dylan Wray is the esports coordinator at the University of North Texas
We recently spoke with Dylan Wray, esports coordinator with University of North Texas about their program.
Animation Career Review: What are the esports in which your school participates?
Dylan Wray: UNT officially sponsors Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Rocket League
ACR: If you offer esports scholarships, please describe your program (full ride, in-state only, etc)
DW: UNT has $20,000 in total scholarship dollars that we divide equally between 23 athletes and 4 student assistant coaches and analyst positions.
ACR: Please fill us in on your recruiting efforts. How are potential students identified? Key stats? What can a student do to connect with your program?
DW: Recruiting for esports is obviously an important goal for us, but for me and our program, what you want to study at our university matters more. Whenever I’m approached by a potential recruit and they tell me that they want to go to UNT, I say “great! What major are you thinking about?” The coolest part about collegiate esports is that everyone is multifaceted and doing amazing things at school on top of competing for their University.
Our program uses a couple websites that allow students to fill out info, but if you or your high school coach reaches out to me or my team members personally I usually take you more seriously. Discord is a marvelous invention that allows you to join our esport community. There you can learn if our program has the culture and competitive environment that you are looking for. Additionally it’s a great way to learn about high school combines we run in the spring semester for interested students looking to come to UNT. You can connect with us at discord.gg/untesports.
ACR: Esports are new to everyone. Please share with us the story of how your program came to fruition.
DW: UNT’s esport club ran by students has been a tour de force for several years winning several events and doing relatively well in placements earning them over $11,000 in scholarships from prizes. The program reached out to UNT’s president Neal Smatresk and made the case for officially supporting an official team backed by the university. President Smatresk saw an opportunity to be one of the first public universities to start a program and started a task force to research the viability in 2016. By 2017 it was decided that the Division of Student Affairs under Rec Sports would manage a Varsity Esports team and they constructed our NEST facility to bolster the club’s ability to play esport titles on campus and one day the space for the varsity program to operate out of. I was hired as UNT’s Esport Coordinator to craft the varsity program structure and oversee its development on February 12th of 2018 and by April 17th we officially launched the varsity program and started recruiting and conducting tryouts for existing students to prep for the 2018-2019 season.
ACR: Describe the type of student are you seeking
DW: Mechanical skill is certainly what we look for. We currently have a cut off of 3.5k SR for Overwatch, Diamond 4 for league of legends, Champion 1 for Rocket League, and Rank 5 for Hearthstone. Rank is not an exact science but it gives us an ability to gauge what you might know about the game and how hard you work on your craft. That being said, if you poses these skills and are a better communicator, or show signs of a positive mental attitude in the face of tough situations or loss, you will likely get the position over someone who is better than you or at an equal playing field.
ACR: As esports are so new, what are the common misconceptions people have about them?
DW: The more I work in this industry the less I see the common stereotypes or stigmas that were placed on my generation (Millennials) for working hard at an esport title. I think more often is the misnomer that we just play video games, but anyone in the industry will tell you that it is a lot of work! Our students that work hourly to help manage our program are a vital component to our growth and our reputation. Without their skills and work ethic UNT Esports would not be the program that it is today.
ACR: What are the common concerns you hear from parents regarding esports participation?
DW: I think the biggest concern parents have is their students ability to get what they need out of college and that they keep their grades up. Gaming in their eyes is often seen as a major roadblock in that goal. In reality, structured varsity programs would be dismantled if our students where consistently dropping out or doing poorly in classes. UNT’s varsity program had a GPA average of 3.21 last year, and it’s something that I and any other program I’ve talked to take very seriously.
ACR: Tell us about the season. What other schools are in your division and conference? How many opportunities are there to compete for a student athlete?
DW: Most collegiate TO’s like TESPA and CSL break colleges up into regional divisions. In Texas we are considered in the South Division and play great programs like UTD, OU, or Texas Wesleyan. The students in our program will compete on average 1-3 times a week depending on the game and if we are in a physical tournament or “LAN.” Esport Collegiate competition is pretty cost effective as 90% of the time we play other colleges digitally so we never have to travel to NY or CA to compete.
That being said, I’ll take a LAN competition any chance I get for our students as I think those events are the true esport experience when you have a cheering crowd watching you perform.
ACR: What can an esports student athlete expect in terms of time commitment? How many hours of play, practice, travel?
DW: I tell my students that I expect about 15 hours of commitment from them a week and that they dedicate about 5 hours to play on their own time to keep their personal goals moving forward. We practice twice a week, have a team meeting, a team workout, and our competitions whenever they are in season.
ACR: What are the academic expectations? Are there minimum GPA requirements? Do you offer study tables or other programs to support the student athletes?
DW: Our varsity program requires full time status: 12 credits for undergraduate, and 6 credits for graduate students. Our students are expected to maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher, and we offer tutoring if they are struggling to keep their grades up mid semester.
ACR: Share with us how your team is doing this season.
DW: Well we are in the midst of our preseason tryout phase from the 18-19 season so I’m focused on the new talent that is coming to UNT at the moment before our competition starts up in September. We have a few returning athletes that I know will naturally be leaders for our new students that are growing into the program which is fantastic to see!
ACR: Tell us about your coaching staff.
DW: I have an esports GA that oversees our student coach’s growth and knowledge about sports psychology to better equip them to lead these teams in the moment. I have three student hourly coaches that manage OW, RL, and LoL that are referred to as esport title managers. Those coaches are also supported by scholarship interns that operate as analysts and assistant coaches that help team growth and craft strategy with the student title managers. Our RL team also receives support from a volunteer alumni from the program that has managed the UNT RL community for years.
ACR: Tell us about your esports practice and/or competition facilities.
DW: UNT has 38k+ students on our campus which means we needed to craft programming and facility space to service as many students as possible.
Our first facility that is available for all students is the NEST and the UNT Media Library. It’s a multi-platform facility that has 21 PC’s, eight console stations, and a Vive and PS4 VR rig. This space is run by the UNT library system and is free to all students. Students can use a console or a PC for up to 4 hours a day and naturally gets a lot of foot traffic! This is also were the majority of our large teams like Overwatch compete and practice during the evenings or when the facility is normally closed. Varsity teams get a semester advance scheduling, and the student sports club gets a week advance scheduling in the space. In an adjacent room, our students run our casting rig for our twitch channel, whenever our games are not covered by tournament organizers.
We also have a six PC NEST set up in our engineering campus so that students who are away from the main campus have a space to practice or relax in-between classes.
We’re gearing up to be even better next year and are expanding to a third practice and performance facility that’s reserved for just the varsity team. We’re calling it the Eyrie and it’s a single team practice and VOD review room! This room unlike the rest, will be exclusive use for anyone on the varsity team.
We also pride ourselves in the large scale events we’ve put on in the last two years. In our Lyceum arena, we can fit up to 500 people to put on large scale esport events. Last year we hosted one of the first intercollegiate League of Legends tournaments on a college campus called the Texas Clash! These events are broadcasted on twitch and draw in hundreds of views on our channel at these times! Our highest number was at our program’s launch event in which 5,000 people watched our event with 400+ people attending live. Most importantly, we are using these events to teach students how run esport events, and with pride we can say that we’ve run 5 events that were student run, and plan to do 4 more this year.
At UNT we’re very committed to creating an esports scene on this campus that is inclusive to anyone who loves to game and our dedicated facilities and departments on campus help us achieve this goal.
ACR: Please share any unique qualities of your program (first one in state, emphasis on team)
DW: UNT Esports was the first public collegiate esports program in Texas and one of the first 10 public universities in the US to adopt a varsity scholarship for video game competition. Last year for our teams that placed nationally, our RL team was #2 in the US, and our OW team placed top #32 in the US.
Our Radio Television and Film program has enabled lots of students to deep dive into the esports industry live production. We’ve pulled off multiple events over our creation in our Lyceum arena where we run live esport competitions that are ran almost entirely by students. This has enabled students to get firsthand experience in all aspects of the live production aspect of the esports industry while we broadcast on twitch.
ACR: What advice do you have for prospective students wanting to pursue esports, as well as those specifically seeking esports scholarships?
DW: Keep up on your grades. If you are a 4k Overwatch player and you also have a 3.0, you are on my radar more so than a 4.3k Overwatch player with a 2.0 GPA. College is often a lot more work and there’s no one to make sure you manage your time like you may have had in the past. If you couldn’t keep up your grades in high school, you would need to work a lot harder to convince me you would be successful playing esports and studying at our university.
ACR: In what ways do participants in collegiate esports programs benefit?
DW: Students benefit in a lot of ways. I think the sense of belonging is a huge one. There are dozens of studies that show that if you are engaged in a program, team, club, you will be more successful and take pride in the college/university that you attend. Our students learn a lot of tacit skills that you don’t get in a lecture hall. Communication, leadership, teamwork, and the value of hard work.
Also these teammates that you play with on a weekly, if not daily basis, will become your family and be the friends you need in your college experience.
ACR: Tell us about your goals for your program. (Do you expect to add more sports, scholarships, etc)
DW: UNT’s esport program has a lot of goals, some that I can talk about, others we’ll have to wait and see if they come to fruition. I think the common theme is that we want to see collegiate competition ingrained in our university culture. We’re in the south, the home of Friday Night Lights and we’re focused on channeling that pride in your high school or college competitive sports and running with it and seeing how far we can take it.
ACR: From a competitive esports standpoint, what is the single most significant moment or accomplishment that stands out in your program’s brief history?
DW: As a program, hearing a crowd full of people cheer on UNT at the Arlington Esports Stadium certainly was a big moment for us as we played in the national championship for Rocket League. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success in our first year of operation and we’re very excited for our second competitive year. There were a lot of wins and certainly some hard moments and losses. I think the moment I’ll never forget personally though was when an athlete of ours got to put on our UNT Esports jersey with his name and gamer tag on the back. He starred at it for a moment and casually said, “I never thought I’d get to be an athlete for my university.”
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.