W.Va. Wesleyan announces unusual new program

BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College officials have announced that it will be the first school in the state to offer a varsity esports program.

WVWC president Joel Thierstein made the announcement during a press conference last week, where he acknowledged that WVWC students have the opportunity to delve into the arts, athletics, Greek life and many more campus activities.

“Among other things that we are doing this fall is we are very pleased to announce here at West Virginia Wesleyan the beginning of a varsity esports program,” he said.

Thierstein described esports as a “significant forest in our global society.”

Varsity collegiate esports began in 2014 when Robert Morris University in Illinois announced a scholarship-sponsored League of Legends team. Since then, the scene has grown to over 60 programs, with a national governing body known as the National Association of College Esports. NCAA Division I, II and III, as well as NAIA schools are among those offering the program.

Esports are regularly televised on TBS, TNT and ESPN, and the sport is now under consideration for the 2024 Paris Olympics, according to a press release.

In the search for additional programs to offer students, John Waltz, Vice President for Enrollment Management for WVWC, said “every time we came back to esports as the next offering.”

Why esports?

“As we looked into it we found a lot of unique things about gaming that fit right into the mission of West Virginia Wesleyan College,” Waltz said. “Particularly the goals of students that think critically and creatively and communicate effectively.”

He further explained that in esports students who are working as a team are learning leadership skills, problem solving skills and the ability to interface not only students with right next to them, but around the world.

“And we think that that diversity of the sport is what was greatly intriguing to us,” he said.

After thorough research and proposals, a search committee was formed to find the school’s first esports coach, Waltz said.

“The things we were looking for, especially to start our esports program, was someone who cared about student learning and somebody that cared about retention of students and care for students as part of a team,” he said.

During the press conference, WVWC officials announced that Kevin Wu will be filling that role.

Wu comes to Wesleyan from Truman State University, where he served as a resident advisor and conducted research evaluating course registration processes on campus.

While at Truman State University, Wu was the co-founder for the esports organization, and earned his bachelor of arts in business administration. He also studied abroad at Shanghai University in China. Wu has previously coached and managed League of Legends rosters at the Challenger Division, and has worked to identify and recruit early stage esports talents.

“I think that esports as a program is an opportunity that has lots and lots of potential and not just here, but globally,” Wu said Thursday morning. “It’s really cool to be able to bring that here.”

Wu said he is looking forward to working with the WVWC students, staff, administration, alumni and community supporters.

“I know that there’s a lot of gaps to bridge between traditional sports and esports and there are a lot of differences, and I’ll do my best to really bridge that gap to help everyone understand the (program),” he said.

WVWC will begin recruiting students immediately and the school will offer competitive e-sports scholarships for this recruitment year and beyond. The college plans to have a roster of seven players for the fall 2019 season with a long-term roster goal of 30 as the program develops.

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