Fort McMurray’s Keyano College is delving into the world of esports, with a new diploma program and esports team.
Esports — which stands for electronic sports — are any video game that can be played competitively. There are professional leagues for games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Call of Duty and NBA 2K, and professional-level tournaments can have prizes in the millions of dollars. Larger collegiate tournaments can have prizes up to $100,000.
Jonathan Lambert, Keyano College’s director of athletics, doesn’t personally play video games. But he found himself pitching the idea of an esports program for the school earlier in 2021.
“It was one of those projects that the entire college got on board with,” said Lambert. “It was really cool to see.”
Lambert tends to watch a number of different sports on TV and noticed esports cropping up amongst the programming.
“It must be just a little bit more than just people playing video games in their basement,” Lambert remembers thinking at the time.
He did some research and found the world championships were hosted at Staples Centre in Los Angeles — and it sold out.
He then pitched the idea of introducing esports to the college and there was buy-in.
Keyano College will build an esports arena and will be offering scholarships for the program.
The esports team will be treated the same as any other varsity team at the school, and will therefore have a required exercise regimen, Lambert said.
“The physical well-being and physical fitness piece is as important as the wins and losses of the team,” said Lambert.
The esports team is a good opportunity for Fort McMurray to be in different sports leagues, as it can be done remotely, said esports head coach Ben Bramly.
“You don’t have to take a bus five hours to play another school. You can just hop on the computer and we can get into a competition against another school right away,” said Bramly.
The list of games that Bramly will be focusing on may fluctuate year-to-year, depending on the popularity of games.
“It’s a very quick moving area, where a lot of things change,” he explained.
That provides unique challenges for Bramly as a coach, as he will need to keep up with each game.
There has been a lot of interest from current students in the esports team, but Bramly is also recruiting across Canada to try and bring in some high-level players, he said.
The aim is to have 20 people in the first year, he added. There will be tryouts for any game that has more players than spots on the team.
Many of the students coming in are already quite good at the games, so Lambert’s job will be mostly ensuring the players are practicing and reviewing videos of their game play, he said.
The first semester of the program starts in the fall.