University of Akron student Drew Brown of Medina plays a video game as University of President Matthew Wilson (background) via Skype announces the addition of a varsity e-sports team to the university in this Dec. 18, 2017 file photo. Tryouts will be held to make up the team that will start competing next fall semester. (Karen Schiely/Beacon Journal/

It’s a dream of video game fans — getting a job in the growing video gaming world.

The University of Akron is allowing Michael Fay to live the dream.

The 26-year-old is the director and head coach for the school’s new esports program.

Late last month, UA revealed it is joining a fast-growing group of colleges offering esports. UA said it is the first public university in northern Ohio to establish a varsity program.

More than 50 colleges across the country have established varsity gaming teams in the past three years, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE).

Fay will join UA soon from Vermont, where he received a graduate degree in emergent media from Champlain College in Burlington last spring.

Most recently, Fay worked for a software company that develops websites for car dealers across the country. As part of his graduate studies, Fay looked at the ways video game developers use social media to build “authentic” relationships with gaming communities.

That’s, uh, an oversimplification. The name of Fay’s graduate thesis is: Authenticating: Genuine Expression in the Management of Video Game Communities.

Q: Esports, with its professional players and championships, is big business. The global esports industry is expected to generate nearly $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020, up from the estimated nearly $700 million for this past year, according to market researcher Newzoo. Still, how do you respond to those who question the legitimacy of esports as a varsity program?

A: Gaming does encapsulate a lot of similarities with conventional sports. For example, gamers often refer to the concept of mechanical skill, which is really important to an esports player. It essentially refers to their physical ability to respond the fastest, have the quickest reflexes. Those are in a sense athletic abilities that are valued in conventional sports. These are skills that just like any other athletic skill can be practiced, improved upon.

And there is a strategic aspect to all sports. There are no esports that don’t have that strategic aspect.

Q: What advice do you have for high school students hoping to get into an esports varsity program?

A: The most important thing that high schoolers should be doing to prepare for being esports athletes is making sure they’re participating in a team. It’s very easy for a video gamer to excel at a game by themselves. It’s an entirely different issue to be on a team, where you are required to communicate and get along with team members and take on a leadership role.

Definitely academic performance is a major consideration. We need student athletes to manage their time and excel in all aspects of their collegiate careers.

Q: Do you have to be physically fit to play on a varsity team?

A: I would say that physical fitness isn’t a prerequisite for being on the team. But I think that all players who are interested in competing need to have an open mind to pursuing physical fitness.

Something that is a big part of my personal coaching philosophy is understanding the importance of balance. Players who aren’t working on their physical fitness aren’t going to be playing at their best. At UA, we’ll be taking a look at fitness goals. Working toward those goals is definitely going to be a huge part of the training regimen.

Q: Will there be cheerleaders?

A: No there aren’t cheerleaders. That doesn’t necessarily mean there can’t be cheerleaders, and I’m hoping the student community at UA will end up being cheerleaders and will end up supporting the team online or in person.

Q: What does an esports coach do to help students both mentally and physically?

A: The role of a coach is mostly as a facilitator for self-improvement. I use a more wholistic coaching style… giving players an opportunity to figure out what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. One of the most important things for coaches to do is goal setting with players and holding them firmly to those goals.

[UA’s varsity program will begin in the fall and will involve 30 to 35 students, while a related esports club will include several hundred students, UA officials have said. The program will be housed in a new esports arena in UA’s Williams Honors College. UA is seeking private donations to cover costs. Fay will be paid $48,000 a year.]

Q: What is your fave video game?

A: When it comes to competitive esports games, I’d have to say League of Legends [a hugely popular online brand] is my favorite. One of my favorite games is actually one of the least-played competitive esports games. It’s called Atlas Reactor [a free-to-play online tactical game.]

Q: How often do you play video games?

A: I probably spend about two hours a day on average. The reality of that is I spend a lot of that time watching competitions and watching the highest level players. I’m particularly fascinated with the strategy behind esports competition.


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