by Jay Schading | published Oct. 22nd, 2022
Photography by Chloe Adour
Weeks of practice have led to this moment. Hours spent behind your computer screen with smiles and laughter, anger and defeat. It has been grueling, but you have shown improvement. The adrenaline kicks in as the crowd begins to chant your name. In a rush of excitement, you score the final point, sealing your team’s victory.
This imagery may evoke visions of hockey, football or other traditional sports, but right now, we are talking about esports.
RIT Esports is RIT’s own on-campus esports club and is open to anyone interested in gaming competitively. The club began in 2016 with two teams – “Heroes of the Storm” and “Overwatch” – and has since expanded. Today, RIT Esports consists of 19 teams and is a big pull for many future college students considering RIT.
“Some people are choosing their college based on their esports program,” Hillary Li, a fifth-year Electrical Engineering student and president of RIT Esports, explained.
The growth of RIT Esports has a lot to do with how the club structures itself. Whereas many student organizations are run very loosely, RIT Esports follows a business-like system that has allowed for rapid growth, championship wins and a large on-campus following.
Around the years of 2013 and 2014, Chad Weeden, assistant director for RIT’s Game Design and Development program at the time, had the idea to start an esports club for students on campus. After being told to go for it by the administration, it took about a year and a half to two years to catch on.
“At that point in time, no one really knew what [esports] was,” Weeden said.
While Weeden worked with the school to start his esports team, a group of students, Peter Lam, Evan Hirsh, Joseph Farrell and Andy Kukielka, were working on starting one of their own. In 2015, the great convergence happened between the faculty and the students working to establish esports at RIT.
From there, RIT Esports exploded. Within the first full year of being an established club, the RIT Esports Discord had 800 members. Today, it has around 2,000 members and the club’s official membership has grown to over 300.
“We’ve won five national championships,” Weeden said. “We are the largest esports team in the nation.”
Today, Weeden is the official director of RIT Esports, working directly with the club’s student executive board to handle organizational and administrative duties.
The Club Structure
The club’s structure consists of two branches – competitive and support – that oversee the entire organization.
“The idea was ‘what does a collegiate esports club look like,'” Weeden said. “[The administrative team] wanted to model it after a professional organization. They looked at what professional esports was and wanted to run [a club] of that nature.”
The competitive branch focuses on the organization’s games. Each team handles one game and has four main roles: managers, coaches, captains and players.
“We are the largest esports team in the nation.”
The support branch takes care of the “back-end” of the club. The broadcast team works with streaming games. The community team works with social media and events. The development team works with the website and Discord. The production team works with graphics and media.
“Each of those teams have a manager,” Li said. “And then it splits up into the individual members of esports.”
The club also has an administrative board consisting of the club’s president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and faculty advisor. Positions such as managers, coaches and administration are all voted on by members of the club.
Since Li has become a part of RIT Esports, the structure of the club’s executive board has changed.
All of the support branch heads used to be on the executive board, making it difficult for them to oversee administrative and department duties. Two new positions, competitive director and support director, were added to allow the department heads and managers to be there for their teams in a more direct capacity. Now the two directors report to the executive board instead.
With games and teams that continuously fluctuate, RIT Esports has had to create a working process to bring them all together online and offline.
When students become interested in a game and want it to become part of the club, they have to present a viable league to play in and have open try-outs. Proposing a game isn’t enough to make the team.
“We take the best players [for the game] that we have. We’re looking for the best,” Weeden explained.
The process of bringing a game online takes about a year. The organization creates a team for a game, budgetary considerations come into play. Teams will have the opportunity to schedule out spaces for practices and be financed for competitions and related expenses such as travel.
The system for quickly bringing games online and offline has aided the club’s growth. It has allowed RIT Esports to focus on anything that generates competitive interest instead of just one game or genre.
“Some people are choosing their college based on their esports program.”
It may not be hockey, but in an extremely short period of time esports has proven itself as a worthwhile alternative for many students.
While a lot of this success can be attributed to the growth of online gaming over the last decade, a good portion of it can also be pinned on the faculty advisor and four students who had a vision for a different kind of student organization.
The gaming industry will no doubt continue to grow, but RIT Esports’ push for support and greater integration with campus resources will also play a huge role in whether or not the club can maintain their momentum in the long term.
Both Weeden and Li hope that, in the future, RIT will consider RIT Esports as one of the university’s varsity teams
At the same time, part of what makes RIT Esports special is how heavily students have been involved in the program’s creation. No amount of official funding could have matched the ingenuity and leadership that has led to the club’s current community.
“It’s important to me to let the student body evolve the program to their vision,” Weeden said. “They are the ones that are creating collegiate esports. It’s their generation.”