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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Varsity esports recaps ‘Valorant’ championship victory in fall, looks toward future seasons

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Cameryn Davis
(Illustration)

The Wichita State varsity esports team wrapped up their fall season on a high note with a win in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Valorant National Championship on Dec. 12. Less than a month later, they were already preparing to begin the spring competitions.

Unlike many other collegiate sports, esports has no traditional “offseason” — the team has two complete seasons every year in the fall and spring. Travis Yang, the Wichita State esports director, explained that this can cause burnout challenges for the esports competitors.

“These are very passionate individuals,” Yang said. “Given the opportunity, they’re going to want to compete and practice all the time, sometimes to their own detriment … but then we have the benefit of the varsity program. We have individuals, we have full time staff, and our job is to help them manage their time and have a better experience.”

The team competes in tournaments throughout the season, usually online. The best teams in the regular season qualify for the playoffs, where they fly out for the competition.

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The Valorant team had to replace two of the five members of its varsity squad during the summer.

According to Yang, the recruiting process was so successful that they formed a junior varsity team to train and compete with the varsity squad.

“They had already been playing throughout the summer, practicing and getting used to each other,” Yang said. “So it wasn’t like the season started and we had to start from ground zero. They were already good to go.”

While Yang said the regular season results were “bumpy,” the group hit their stride when they were forced to face top teams in the playoffs.

“We ended up playing a higher seed early, but we knew that we were a good team and we won,” Yang said.”

Yang said the esports program functions as five different teams with their own schedules and practices, all under the same athletic department. 

Wichita State currently has teams in “Rocket League,” “Overwatch 2,” “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate,” “Call of Duty” and “Valorant,” with one student doing “iRacing.”

Unlike many other sports that have one major competition, esports is largely decentralized. Wichita State competes in two major competitions: the ECAC, containing about 50 universities, and the National Association of Collegiate esports, of which almost every varsity esports program is a member.

All five of Wichita State’s teams had top-four finishes in the ECAC playoffs in the fall, which is the expectation for the program.

“The standard is already set pretty high,” Yang said. “If you don’t get (to the) playoffs, it’s kind of disappointing … Every semester that goes by, we’re trying to push it a little bit higher. Always trying to compete for a national championship.”

Wichita State started its varsity esports program in 2019, near the start of a wave of competitive gaming recognition on college campuses around the country

Yang said Wichita State has been largely supportive of its esports program, which he described as a “leader” in the region.

“Schools in the past have reached out if they’re trying to start a program,” Yang said. “So we are definitely a catalyst for the development of esports, at least in the state.”

The rise of esports has extended to Unified School District 259 in Wichita, who received over $500,000 of funding in 2020 to support competitive gaming programs in their schools. Yang said that the development allowed Wichita State to recruit from the pool of Wichita students.

“We’ve actually been able to do some signing days,” Yang said. “We’ve had students who graduated from Wichita East or Southeast high school and they come literally straight here to compete … Now you have kids who are in elementary school going into middle school and they’re able to start competing, as with any sport.”

Going forward, Yang said the esports team will look to expand into a larger space than their current headquarters in the Corbin Education Center room 156A, acquire more computers for gaming and integrate more academically, adding more esports-related majors. 

The college competitive esports scene is growing rapidly, and Yang said Wichita State will continue to attempt to stay at its forefront and provide opportunities that wouldn’t exist five years ago to students .

“They are this first generation,” Yang said. “So they’re going to have these really unique experiences … that they can look back on and be like, ‘Wow, I was a part of Wichita State’s first ever Rocket League varsity team. That kind of stuff, 50, 60 years down the road, that’s a part of history.”

To get involved with the Wichita State esports team, join their discord at discord.gg/esportswsu.

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About the Contributors
Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh, Sports Editor
Jacob Unruh is the sports editor for The Sunflower. He is a senior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. Unruh is pursuing journalism after graduation. This is his second year on staff. He goes by he/him pronouns.
Cameryn Davis
Cameryn Davis, Illustrator/Designer
Cameryn Davis is a sophomore at WSU pursuing a graphic design degree. After graduating, Davis aims to work in design and illustration. Davis uses she/her pronouns.

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