With hundreds of millions of players, you could say that esports has traveled to every corner across the world. Now, esports has traveled to Missouri Western with the help of Christian Konczal.
“A program like this combines my love for video games with my love for teaching, and we're making that happen,” Christian Konczal, the director of esports program, said.
Esports, a shortened term for electronic sports, is a competitive sport played through video games. These games can range from Mario Kart to Modern Warfare.
While Missouri Western introducing esports onto campus might seem unnecessary to some, Konczal realized the potential of catering to a large demographic.
The world championship competition of popular video game League of Legends pulled in over 100 million viewers. In comparison, Superbowl LIV viewership hit around 99.9 million.
Konczal, originally from Vermont, previously taught at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, and University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. Konczal made the trip to Missouri to serve as Missouri Western’s director of esports program and head coach of the varsity team.
As a freshman in college, Konczal played League of Legends for the first time. League of Legends has built a fanbase ranging in the hundreds of millions following its release in 2009.
Throughout his life, Konczal’s appreciation for video games has skyrocketed.
“One of the things that I really appreciate about (video games) is how inclusive they are,” Konczal said.
His work with Breakaway, a video game about soccer, at Champlain University took him to Cape Town, South Africa. Konczal played a role in developing Breakaway and sharing the video game with the local children.
Breakaway helped normalize gender equality between boys and girls in countries where gender-based violence is a major issue.
The premise of the video game is that of a girl joining an all-boys soccer team. The player would then find themselves making decisions based on how they would positively or negatively treat the girl in different situations.
“That's something that resonated with me because this was one of my first hands on experiences of seeing what good video games can do,” Konczal said.
Konczal wants to bring that inclusivity to Missouri Western.
“The main goal is to serve 100% of gamers on campus,” Konczal said.
He wants Missouri Western to not only cater to those on the varsity teams but also to those who leisurely play video games. Even with viewership and prize money reaching the millions, there are still many players that only want to play video games for fun.
“Even if you only play Animal Crossing on your phone, you have a home here in Missouri Western,” Konczal said.
Missouri Western’s esports program is divided into four varsity teams: League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch and Fortnite.
Konczal created a survey to gather information about specific video games and received over 400 prospective and current student responses. The survey asked students what video games they are most interested in playing, what games they are watching on Twitch and what games they would be interested in cheering along to.
“This is Missouri Western’s esports. What do our students want?” Konczal said. “That's going to be what makes us successful.”