For John George ’18, video games were always a casual interest. When he first came to Butler University, he loved playing games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart with friends.
“It wasn’t until sophomore year when I really got into watching esports and watching competitive video gaming,” George said. “That’s when I really wanted to see what the feeling for it was on campus.”
In his junior year, George started thinking about starting a club, but he struggled to find other students who were interested in competitive gaming. He also wanted to find a professor to be a club advisor who was as passionate about esports as he is.
“I didn’t know anyone who watched competitive video gaming like I did,” George said.
Over the summer leading into his senior year, George met the founder of the esports club at Clemson University, who gave him tips and advice about how to get a similar club started at Butler.
At the start of the 2017–2018 academic year, George met College of Communication Professor Ryan Rogers, who was new to Butler but had previously done research about video games and was planning to create a class on esports.
That class eventually would turn into a team.
“Esports has always been interesting to me and something that I could really see taking off [on a college campus],” Rogers said.
George and Rogers got started planning early in the year and decided that they wanted individual teams in different games. George went to the Facebook pages of each Butler graduating class and posted information about the new club, looking to find students who might be interested in competing.
The first callout meeting was in the fall.
“It was a really fun meeting just introducing each other and it seemed like there was a ton of interest because most of the people there said that they had three or four friends that just couldn’t make it,” George said. “Actually finding a group of people that was into esports and the gaming culture like I am was awesome.”
After that first meeting, the group got together for a second time in November, where they decided which games they wanted to play, split into teams for each game, and selected team captains who were responsible for finding tournaments for the teams to play in, and scheduling practices.
The club started out playing League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and Hearthstone. Eventually, after holding tryouts, it added Rocket League and FIFA.
The esports group also merged with a more casual group, the Butler Gaming Club.
“It can be kind of intimidating to jump right in to competitive video gaming,” George said. “I thought the casual side was a good way to attract people who love playing fun games and then once they find out about [the esports club] they can get into that.”
In the fall, the Big East reached out to the Athletic Department and Mike Freeman, Butler’s Senior Associate Athletic Director External Operations, about esports on Butler’s campus. That was the same week that George and Rogers met to discuss forming a team.
Freeman said the Big East approached each school to try to find out what was going on regarding esports. The conference found that some schools were active, while others had done little.
Freeman knew Rogers had a background in esports, so he reached out about getting involved with the Big East. The conference had partnered with ESL, an esports company that organized tournaments around the world, in hopes of starting competition between Big East schools.
Rogers helped to organize the group with the Big East while George held tryouts and streamed the club’s game play.
On May 7 and 8, Butler Rocket League and Butler League of Legends competed in Big East play for the first time. Three members of the Butler team competed in Rocket League and five competed in League of Legends.
The League of Legends team was swept in Big East play, but the Rocket League team placed fourth.
“We went 2-4 [in Rocket League] but we were a lot closer with a lot of the teams and were very close to winning more games,” George said.
For the team, the Big East Invitational was a great experience, and in George’s eyes, a great stage for the world of esports.
“I would love if the Big East keeps doing competition because I think that is very established and attracts casual viewers more because they know those teams,” George said. “We play those teams in basketball and other sports. For example, I was really hyped to see us play Xavier in Rocket League because that is a really classic rivalry.”
Since the Big East Invitational, Freeman and Rogers have been trying to get the word out about esports on Butler’s campus.
“There are huge benefits if we grow that club the right way,” Freeman said. “In the next few years, there could be people that come to Butler because they want to be a part of the esports club. It is a similar structure to people who are deciding if they want to be on a sports team.”
Freeman compares the esports club to the way the Butler Athletic Department was when it first started out.
“One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Butler kind of had an athletic department with a football team,” Freeman said. “And then we formed a basketball team. But now we have 20 athletic teams and dance team and cheerleading and we compete in all these different leagues. Within the esports club, you have all these different teams because there are all different games that people could play.”
As a graduating senior and the founder of the group, George’s time with the club has been short, but he said it’s been a fantastic experience. In addition to being fun and an opportunity to meet new people, it allowed him to gain valuable leadership experience.
“The club is awesome, not only for people who want to compete but for people who are interested in business or communications,” George said. “I was able to run the stream and be a commentator and analyze what was going on and work on the media side of it.”
The club also has a treasurer and a social media chair, which George said are great opportunities for students to hold leadership positions in a group they are passionate about.
Freeman thinks that the club can have huge benefits to students after graduation as well.
“The end goal [of a Butler education] is to get you ready to go out into the world and do great things,” he said. “The people that are on these teams have some really high-level majors, and if [cities like] Indy are growing as a tech community, then we have that subgroup of people who are in the tech world and are also doing great things with their majors. It’s an area where there are businesses that are very interested in what’s going on.”
To stay up to date with Butler’s esports club, check out their Twitter account and Facebook page. The club hold tryouts for all games each semester. Current and incoming Butler students are invited to reach out to be invited to its Discord channel.