By Theo Schwinke
Fresh off winning the Collegiate Rocket League (CRL) Western Conference Finals, the Mizzou Rocket League team will proceed to the CRL National Championship Jan. 7-8, 2021.
In the championship, Mizzou will battle for the title of CRL National Champions as well as scholarship money. Rocket League developer Psyonix is putting up $50,000 to be divided among players on the qualifying teams.
“We can make it to Top 4 in North America if we continue to refine our play over winter break,” player Riley Putnam said. “We are a new squad and have less experience than other teams, but we have shown that putting in more high-quality time and effort with coaches makes the bigger difference and will show during the National Championship.”
Mizzou Esports is a program within the Division of Student Affairs. Announced in December 2018, Mizzou Esports began participating as an officially sanctioned varsity activity in August 2019. Rosters are selected from current students who have full-time status at the University of Missouri.
“Mizzou has invested heavily into esports like few schools have, and because of that we offer a Division I experience that no other esports program in the country can match,” said Mizzou Esports Coach Kevin Reape.
There are currently 21 student athletes receiving some form of scholarship to compete for the Mizzou Esports program. The total valuation of scholarship packages in 2019-2020 is over $150,000.
Mizzou Esports teams practice and compete in the 5,000-square-foot MSI Training Facility, one of the largest university gaming facilities in the nation.
Mizzou has seen tremendous success in the inaugural year of competition. The Rocket League team won the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) Rocket League Championship in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2019. The Overwatch team was one of 12 teams to be invited to compete in the Tespa Varsity Invitational. The League of Legends team competes in the Riot Scholastic Association of America (RSAA) sanctioned Midwest Esports Conference, traveling to universities in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri for regular season matches.
Equally important, however, is the sense of belonging esports gives the players.
“My involvement in esports has really supported my experience at Mizzou because without it I would not feel as connected with the school,” player Christian VanMeter said. “My experience with the program has been great so far and I hope that we can continue to find success in the future.”
The professional world of esports is growing. PwC projects the industry will be worth nearly $1.5 billion by 2022. Revenue comes from media rights, live event ticket sales, merchandise sales and in-game purchases, but most of the money comes from sponsorships and advertising. Total esports viewership is expected to grow to 646 million in 2023, according to Business Insider Intelligence estimates.
For players, esports opens up opportunities in many areas. Mizzou Esports players and volunteers are getting hands-on experience in sports and broadcast journalism, computer science and data analysis, sports management and player development, Reape says.
As with any sport, esports takes a lot of time and dedication, VanMeter said. “With esports you must put a lot of time in to improve many aspects of your game. It requires an immense amount of skill to become a pro,” he said.
The CRL National Championship will be streamed Jan. 7-8 on Twitch.