Jan. 11, 2024

NDSU esports brings community together

Finding your place at NDSU outside of the classroom doesn’t have to be daunting. The rapidly growing esports community on campus welcomes students from all majors and skill levels, whether you love playing video games competitively or casually with friends.

Alex Kotula, a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in university studies, was the student who paved the way for the esports realm now well-known on campus. Kotula knows how important having an esports community is for students.

“It really just gives them an opportunity to come together and play together because a lot of students unfortunately do feel isolated in college. They haven’t found their niche, and this is just one more niche as an option for students,” said Kotula, the former president of Rocket League Club.

At NDSU, esports clubs were established in 2017. At that time two titles, Rocket League and League of Legends, were available for students to play. Since then, there are now eight titles students can play, and around 350 students have joined the Discord server. Current titles include Rocket League, Super Smash Bros, League of Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, CS:GO, Halo and Chess, with more titles set to make their debut. 

A state-of-the-art esports facility located on the third floor of Ladd Hall has recently been completed with the help of Kotula, who worked with Student Government and the former director of the Memorial Union to secure a $500,000 grant.

Kotula got to help envision the space, which includes 36 machines, a casting cart for streaming games, counsel gaming, speakers, several TVs and a projector.

“It’s finally designed for us, which is convenient. And it was nice that I got a lot of say in the floor planning. For the casting cart, they gave me the job of specking it out, so I got to pick out everything. Same for the PCs, I got to pick out the specs for a lot of things,” Kotula said. “This really was student coordinated and student done with a couple of faculty members looking over it.”

The esports scheduled to officially open to the public soon. It will be free for all NDSU students to access and available via a pay-per-hour fee for community members. So far, Kotula said tours of the space have been given to area high school students.

The new space also allows students to use equipment they might not have access to otherwise.

“For example, if you have an X-box, PlayStation or a Switch, but don’t have a PC, or vice versa, it allows you to play games you might not have,” Kotula said.

Making sure all students have access to opportunities in esports has been a top goal for Kotula. He pioneered the Dakota Collegiate Rocket League, a tournament that gives college students from North Dakota and South Dakota, along with from MSUM and Concordia, the chance to play in a semester long tournament with the opportunity to play on a Local Area Network, otherwise known as an in-person tournament, regardless of skill level.

“Basically, the reason it’s really cool is if you’re not good enough skill-wise to be on your college’s varsity team and travel nationally, this gives you the opportunity to compete against people your skill-level to play on LAN.”

In 2022 the first DCRL tournament was held in the Memorial Union Oceti Sakowin Ballroom. The success of that tournament was noticeable, according to Kotula, who said students along with their families and friends were able to enjoy the event.  

Kotula said a parent of one of his varsity Rocket League teammates expressed her gratitude for the impact the NDSU esports community had on her son.

“His mom came up to me crying and gives me a huge hug and thanks me for basically helping him come out of his shell. Going to a lot of LAN events together, he used to be super shy, wouldn’t really hang out with people, and then he slowly started coming out of his shell,” Kotula said. “It was really meaningful to see the impact it has on others because I talk about what it’s doing for me and what I’m doing for it, but you have to look back and say ‘well what are these other students getting out of it?’ And to see that’s such a tangible thing that the parents realize it enough to come, it makes it worth it.”

In addition to playing Rocket League together, Kotula said the lifelong bonds he’s made with his teammates goes beyond video games. Past outings include bowling, skiing and traveling together to Dallas, Texas to watch the Rocket League world championship in 2022.  

“So we’re doing these cool events instead of just ‘oh you play video games? Well let’s just play video games next to each other.’ It’s trying to do community events to get out and to enjoy college together,” he said.

Kotula has built skills he’ll be able to use beyond college from his involvement in the Rocket League Club, including being a leader of a team, along with the experience he’s gained from creating a sales pitch for the esports facility concept.  

Kotula is excited for the future of esports at NDSU and to watch the community continue to grow. His message to students, both current and prospective, is to not be afraid to get involved in one of the several esports clubs.

“I would probably say something along the lines of just do it,” Kotula said. “Do it, try it, even if you’re bad at these games, join because people want nothing more than to help others. We want to help. We want to grow because we’re aware of how amazing this community has been to us. We want to share the love and growth with everyone else.”

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