Collegiate esports are continuing to grow, and remain one of the most accessible ways to enter the esports ecosystem. In the seven years since Tespa, a collegiate esports organization, was founded in 2010, it’s grown from a simple student organization to the leader in collegiate esports.
As competitive Overwatch continues to grow, Tespa is going to remain an important ramping on point for both the community facets of Overwatch and the competitive aspects of the esport. So far, Tespa has hosted several national tournaments, counting Heroes of the Dorm the Collegiate Hearthstone Championship, and League of Legends NACC Qualifier among their achievements.
Now, Tespa is announcing new changes for the 2017-2018 academic year, including a tiered membership plan open to all college students, with the option to upgrade to Tespa Plus and receive digital and physical merchandise. Not only are they planning on extending their reach to new students and campuses, but Tespa are doubling down on their plans for collegiate competition. We can expect competitive leagues for six titles, including Overwatch. This will include active coverage, with six broadcasts a week, and a one million dollar USD pool dedicated to scholarships and prizes.
Heroes Never Die had the opportunity to sit down with Adam Rosen, co-founder of Tespa, and Logan Fishel, Tespa’s associate product manager, to talk about exactly what these changes mean for Overwatch players on campus, and why the game is such a great fit in their roster of competitive titles.
“We immediately saw a ton of interest in Overwatch.”
“Overwatch launched at the end of the academic school year last year. We immediately saw a lot of interest from our over 220 local Tespa chapters.” Fishel notes. Even before Overwatch hit shelves, it had garnered a ton of interest due to its cinematic reveal trailer and easily accessible concept. As soon as Tespa could roll out an Overwatch series, students were signing up in droves.
“We had 225 schools participate in last year’s Overwatch collegiate series, and since the finals wrapped up at the UC San Diego National Championship last February, we’ve been running an off season.” Fishel explains. “We’ve seen even more schools start showing interest, and even a few schools such as UC Irvine and University of Utah actually offer athletic scholarships for Overwatch. It’s definitely one of our most exciting titles for sure.”
Rosen helps explain why Overwatch is such a natural fit for collegiate esports. “At Tespa, one of the core values that we have is to foster inclusivity. When we create these college programs, we care a lot about making sure we have a single home where all gamers from all backgrounds can come together and interact.”
It’s been repeatedly noted that Overwatch is a remarkably diverse game, and that extends past the characters and their designs. Overwatch is a game that’s accessible for students who haven’t necessarily picked up competitive esports skills; Symmetra allows players to win without aiming, and tanks like D.Va reward positioning and timing over twitch and precision.
Building communities on campus through Overwatch
Bringing people together on campuses is an important goal for Rosen and Tespa. “Tespa has these two components: we have the community pillar, which is all about creating and supporting local chapters on campuses everywhere. We have over 220 official chapters, and what that means is that each of these chapters is run by a student leader. They apply, they become official, and then they run these events regularly.”
“To us, it doesn’t matter where a gamer is from, what games they’re playing now, what they believe in...” Rosen adds, clearly passionate. “They should all be able to come together and enjoy gaming in a place that’s welcoming, and safe, and inviting for everyone.
Fishel agrees, adding his thoughts: “I think some of that diversity you see in Overwatch has definitely resonated really well with a lot of our chapters. For example, University of Rutgers has over 200 people in their Overwatch community who are working together to make sure that their primary team is competing well.”
These communities of players, even those who aren’t good enough to step up onto the varsity team to represent their university, create vital infrastructure. Some students help coach, analyze, or manage. Other students help with media and management. Still others are simply fans who are there to cheer their university’s team on and spread the word.
Fishel sees all of this as being a crucial part of building Overwatch esports in the days to come. “We see a lot of these schools building up communities around their varsity Overwatch esports teams, and we see that helping grow the overall, overarching Overwatch ecosystem.”
Bringing students on board and building a community is great, but Tespa is also aiming to build a competitive collegiate system. “We’ll be broadcasting six broadcasts a week for all of our competitive matches, and one of the reasons that’s so important is to bring visibility to all of these teams that are competing.” Rosen says.
These latest steps are all part of a plan, Rosen adds. “When we look at the future of collegiate esports, we see varsity teams on every major campus, and we see competing for those teams and representing their universities as something that’s aspirational for students everywhere.”
The goal is for students who are going through school and looking for a future path to be able to see a varsity team and think: I could get involved with that. Rosen explains that collegiate esports have a major advantage over systems like the Overwatch League or the NA LCS here: the ability to see yourself in a player’s shoes.
“One of the interesting things we found is that collegiate esports are inherently relatable.” he says. “A lot of the time, you’ll have professional esports, teams like Cloud9 or Immortals or Fnatic, that mean something to traditional esports fans, but for gamers who aren’t yet following esports at a hardcore level, maybe they don’t have those affiliations yet. But if you see Michigan vs Ohio State, people have some inherent affiliation with those universities.”
Linking community and competition together
“One of the things that we believe is really important is having a strong community and a strong competitive team work together.” Rosen says. He backs this up with his experience so far as Tespa has grown. “We’ve seen throughout our previous tournaments like Heroes of the Dorm and the Tespa Collegiate Series for Overwatch that the universities that are the strongest and performing at the highest levels are actually the teams that have the best communities and the most fulfilling and organized experiences on campus.”
“I don’t think that’s a coincidence.” he states. “For us, when we think about collegiate esports in Overwatch, we don’t just think about that top level player.” The campus community of logistics, resources, and fans, are there to back those varsity teams up. “For us, that whole ecosystem is just as important as the top level player who’s representing their university on a national scale.”
Rosen cites the Tespa chapter program, where chapter leaders work with Tespa to grow campus experiences. That includes tournaments and viewing parties, growing both parts of the system while giving students real world skills that translate into post-education opportunities. Some of these students will be able to use these skills to get in on the pro Overwatch life, whether that’s as a player or behind the scenes. Others will be able to move into other fields.
“We believe strongly in teaching these students and providing them with hands on opportunities to find the pathway to their future. If you look at our team right now, almost all of our team used to be members of Tespa chapters.” Rosen says. “To be a chapter leader, there’s a lot of soft skills that are hard to teach - things about community building, partnerships, negotiation, and leading a team.”
“We want to make sure they’re successful in game and in school.”
The Overwatch League promises top gameplay between big brands and hype players, but Tespa’s a little more down to earth. Fishel explains, “First and foremost, it gives students a lot of real world experience. A lot of the most successful teams who we’ve seen competing in the Overwatch collegiate series have really organized team managers, analysts, and coaches, which helps them go on to be successful.”
The idea is to make this a sustainable practice, and keep students on track. Fishel says that Tespa is strict about Overwatch being a way to add to students’ lives and education, not a distraction. “We make sure that our active players in the Overwatch collegiate series are prioritizing their education first. We have a lot of checks to make sure all of our students are in school full time and meeting minimum GPA requirements. We want to make sure that they’re successful in game and in school.”
Many fans have their eyes on the big stage as Overwatch Contenders Season One begins, and the Overwatch League after that.