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College esports in Wyoming can be nationally competitive, they just need support

University of Wyoming Esports Team
Tony Delaurante
University of Wyoming esports team photo. This group plays Overwatch and drew a crowd of 200 at the Colorado State University vs University of Wyoming Border War in 2021.

Tyler Coffman, a member of the Central Wyoming College (CWC) esports team, plays Rocket League.

In this competitive video game, you control a car to knock a ball into a goal, like soccer. Coffman said he hits five to six buttons a second while competing. He said when he wins, his opponents are surprised where he's from.

"And so usually, when people see that, it's like, 'Oh, you're from Wyoming. Didn't know you guys existed out there.' You know, something dumb like that," he said.

Access to the internet is obviously important for esports. Historically Wyoming hasn't had super fast internet. But Coffman said with support from the college and new facilities and computers they can be competitive.

"We still were able to hand it to him pretty well," he said.

Christer Dugger, the esports coach at Northwest College said the college registered with the National Junior College Athletic Association last year. The association says eleven hundred people are playing at community colleges across the country.

Dugger said there are stereotypes about people from Wyoming, specifically about the internet.

"So, we have a horse in the back that runs the conveyor belt that keeps the power running. But otherwise, other than that, I mean, the interconnected internet connections are great," he said, jokingly.

During the pandemic, there was an uptick in those who stayed home and played games. Video games were a way to stay in contact with friends while social distancing and relieve stress.

In 2021, video games experienced an eight percent increase and U.S. games sales were around $60 billion.

Tyler Coffman is holding an old sweatshirt he got custom-made with his gamer tag in a gaming space.
Tyler Coffman is on the esports team at Central Wyoming College. He's holding an old sweatshirt he got custom-made with his gamer tag.

Dugger said the growing interest in esports is offering a place to those in need of a community.

" I really think that esports is that way for us to connect, and have that engagement with students that wouldn't ever really see that kind of engagement otherwise," he said.

Northwest has a new gaming arena with computers and consoles as well as a scholarship of up to $2,000. Central Wyoming College also has gaming computers, consoles, designated gaming lounge, and a new scholarship in the works. Laramie County Community College has a gaming facility on campus as well. But the University of Wyoming doesn't have some of these perks for its athletes.

E.C. Ogu is the president of the esports team at the University of Wyoming and former Wyoming Football cowboy.

He said their organization is the largest club on campus with 700 members.

"But this is probably two to three years away from being I think the biggest thing on campus, right below, you know, football, basketball," he said.

Despite the large interest in UW, individual players provide their own computers and consoles. Ogu said the University is donating $50,000 to the eventual construction of a room and construction started on the project this week.

Currently, there are no scholarships offered, and there is one staff member who isn't compensated for their time on the esports team.

The UW esports team is largely student-led and the team has won games against some of the best esports teams in the Mountain West athletic division including Boise State University, one of the best teams in the nation.

Ogu hopes to see more support from the University of Wyoming because he said there is clearly a group of students that are excited about esports.

"I wholeheartedly believe that Wyoming could probably be a top tier esports college in the country, with a little bit more funding and help from our university," he said.

Back in Riverton, Coffman sat in the Central Wyoming College gaming lounge and practiced while saying he gets asked all the time what esports is.

"I get a lot of, like, laughter and just like, whatever. That's basically all that it's, you know, it's just the competitive games that you love," he said.

Coffman said that although this was his first year, he is excited to eventually start an esports team of his own.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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