Pressing the start button: UMSL prepares to launch new esports program this fall
Bovey Zhang is guiding the development of the program as its inaugural coach and is working to build a varsity roster of about 20 players, who will compete in highly organized, competitive, multiplayer video games.
Zhang plans for the program to begin with a focus on four games: League of Legends, Valorant, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and FIFA. In the future, he would like to further grow the varsity team with players also competing in Call of Duty, Rocket League, Brawlhalla and Counter-Strike, and he imagines recruiting between 5-10 players per game title.
“Building something from scratch is always very exciting, just to see where it came from to where it goes,” Zhang said. “I think that’s what drives me is, ‘OK, this is something I can manipulate and build with my own vision and see what happens in the future.’ I think that’s very exciting.”
Zhang has a background in cybersecurity and earned a bachelor’s degree in information systems at Liberty University while serving as a signal support specialist in the U.S. Army. But he realized his passion lies in esports and founded his own company, Flash Point Esports, in 2016.
Since then, he’s had stints as the program director at Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, and, for the past year, as the esports manager and coach at Saint Leo University, about 35 miles northeast of Tampa, Florida.
He sees great potential to build a program at UMSL that can compete with top varsity teams around the Midwest, including in-state schools such as Maryville University, Missouri State University and Saint Louis University as well as the University of Missouri–Columbia and the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
“The Missouri scene in esports is actually one of the biggest in the States,” Zhang said. “You have California, Texas, Florida, but Missouri actually has a very prominent esports scenes, especially in Kansas City in St. Louis. I see a lot of potential, a lot of good players and a lot of good opportunities that haven’t been tapped yet. Why not make a Midwest conference for esports? That hasn’t been done yet. Why not build that? We already have around 25 colleges around the Missouri area that have esports programs, so the opportunities are endless.”
UMSL is working to renovate the Pilot House space on the lower level of the Millennium Student Center to create an advanced gaming arena complete with more than 20 gaming consoles. The space will be used for varsity team training and competition but will also be open to other students interested in competitive gaming as a recreational pursuit.
“The esports program is great way for us to expand student engagement at UMSL and help students connect the dots between their academic programs and their interests outside the classroom,” said Jessica Long-Pease, UMSL’s vice provost for student affairs. “I’m excited for the esports facility to be part of the Millennium Student Center because it offers us a chance to enhance the physical environment within the building while also providing dedicated space for our students to build community.”
That is also a goal of Zhang’s.
“We would like to build a community of people that understand gaming,” he said. “We have to build that so we have fans who can support our program. Even from a longevity standpoint, if there are good players, they can just kind of grow into the atmosphere. Why limit ourselves just to one varsity team? Why can’t we just build a whole community with everyone involved in it and just kind of build a ladder to it?”
The program also will provide a vibrant engagement opportunity for students in academic programs such as computer science, engineering, information systems, art and graphic design, and business-related programs.
As UMSL builds its own esports program, it is also serving as the presenting partner of the St. Louis CITY SC Esports Program. The partnership will provide esports and gaming integration through dedicated events on and off campus, content and externship opportunities for UMSL students.
To request more information about UMSL’s esports program, visit https://www.umsl.edu/esports/index.html.
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