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Crank It Up: Tech Den, Shoutcasters, Watch Parties Part Of Buzz Around Esports Launch

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Esports program starts with win
Freshman Alex Nimiroski competes in the inaugural competition for the Keene State esports program. The three-player Owls Rocket League team scored a 3-1 win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Monday, Feb. 5.

The transformation was quick — surprisingly quick — and exciting.

Especially if you are a member of Keene State’s esports team, which launched its inaugural season on Monday, Feb. 5. The Owls’ starting three-person Rocket League squad – Alex Nimiroski, Eric Carlo and Keegan Wilder – will forever be the first student-athletes in program history to compete in esports.

Carlo, a sophomore captain, sealed a 3-1 victory over Purdue Fort Wayne with a sudden-death goal. The overtime session lasted 3 minutes and 52 seconds.

The transformation concerns the team’s new home field, a state-of-the-art space in The Commons, a first-year residence hall that houses more than 300 students. The one-time classroom is now a bright, logo-splashed, tech-decked den wired for competition and broadcast.

For the opener, an adjoining classroom came to life too, as it was the site of a watch party for fans who cheered on the Keene State team in the Rocket League showdown on the team’s Twitch channel. Match viewership peaked at 82. All Keene State games this season will be streamed on that channel:

In the gaming room, PCs feature top-of-the-line components that are future-proof for the next half-decade plus, says Coach Noah Drouin ‘20, noting that the hardware and software provide team members maximum visual and audio quality.

Each player station also includes a 25-inch full HD 1080P monitor running at 240 frames per second for smooth gameplay. The headsets are HyperX Cloud IIIs and the mice are Logitech G403 HEROs. Station setups also include custom, room-décor matching, and logo-bearing mousepads. If specs are your jam, we might add that the graphics card being used in the PCs is a Nvidia RTX 4070 12 GB.

Competitive gaming is largely misunderstood as a silly endeavor, or as much less intensive than it is. People uninformed on how it works often vastly underestimate the sheer amount of money in the (video gaming) space, and assume it is easy or not an actual sustainable profession.”

– Korben Robinson ‘26

Short for electronic sports, esports is a team-based multi-player video game competition. The rapid growth and broad popularity of collegiate gaming have led to it being embraced among more traditional sanctioned sports, Drouin said, noting that esports scholarships are now offered at dozens of colleges, and the conference in which the Owls will compete consists of more than 100 schools.

The sport’s expansion is not limited to the collegiate level; it is surging in high schools across the country, too, all part of a multi-billion overall video gaming industry.

The Owls’ first game occurred just 196 days after the College announced the addition of esports to its varsity sports lineup. Men’s and women’s ice hockey were added simultaneously, bringing the number of Keene State varsity teams to 23.

“I never imagined competing this soon,” Nimiroski, a computer science major from Tiverton, R.I., said. “It all came together so fast, but here we are, and I’m excited. I’m matched with two track and field teammates, Aidan and Eric, which makes it all the more fun. We’re working hard on the communication piece; you have to make split-second decisions and if you make a mistake, you get scored on.”

Put simply, Rocket League is race cars playing soccer, and it is one of three gaming titles in which the Owls will compete. Overwatch 2, a first-person shooting game, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which involves the use of tricks and maneuvers to knock the opponent from a mountain, are the others. The Keene State program has joined a governing body, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE).

Within NACE, the largest varsity collegiate esports association in the world, the Owls are entered in the Starleague Varsity Plus Division. A sophomore music major from Simsbury, Connecticut, Korben Robinson will begin the season as one of the Owl’s more experienced, and therefore more confident, gamers. Ardent and positive by nature, he said “I can’t wait to show my stuff.”

“I have been playing video games for almost all of my life,” Robinson added, “starting with Mario games on the Wii and Minecraft on mobile devices, then moving to Halo: Reach, Borderlands 2, and eventually Overwatch upon gaining access to an Xbox 360. I have also participated as a player in a few small community events and tournaments.”

Additionally, Korben has helped as a volunteer coach for XP League and handled camerawork for Valhallan Esports youth leagues, which gave him important insight into all facets of an esports competition. “Competitive gaming is largely misunderstood as a silly endeavor, or as much less intensive than it is. People uninformed on how it works often vastly underestimate the sheer amount of money in the (video gaming) space, and assume it is easy or not an actual sustainable profession.”

“I look forward to making new connections in the industry as part of this team and having a great time with my teammates. Things are starting to come together, and we are all excited to see what is to come!”

Adding esports made a lot of sense for Keene State. Modest startup costs and overhead, and the chance to meet a new demographic of future students are just two of many reasons why.

“It is a recruiting and retention initiative for the College, but for the students, it’s a chance to take their video gaming skills to a new level, to represent their college with pride, and to connect with like-minded gamers,” MB Lufkin, vice president of enrollment and student engagement, said.

Drouin is a Keene State alum who earned an undergraduate degree in secondary education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction. His resume includes time as a contracted professional Pokémon Unite player and a stint as the esports program manager at Fort Lewis College in Durango, C.O. He welcomed more than 30 students for Keene State’s tryouts.

“Interest was very high, and it all came from the student body, obviously; not just from those who wanted to compete, but from those who wanted to get involved in other behind-the-scenes ways,” he said.

Drouin kept 18 student-athletes for his playing roster, and hired four assistant coaches, including two other Keene State alums, with experience related to the respective game titles: Kevin McDermot and Thomas LaPointe for Rocket League, Mike Godzik ’20 for Overwatch 2, and Aleksey Wirth ’23 for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

“I see my role as overseeing the goings-on of the program,” Drouin said. “Bringing in dedicated assistant coaches who know the kind of athletes we need, and to help structure productive practices, that’s big.

Production is a big part of the show and that work will be handled entirely by Keene State students. Roles include broadcasters who run the live streams and shoutcasters who are the gameday voices and on-camera personalities for the live streams. Student social media and graphic design specialists are assisting with team and broadcast promotion.

Said Drouin: “It was another goal of mine to get a lot of hands in the pot and to involve as many students as possible so that they have some ownership of this exciting program, and that has happened.”

Drouin said the details are being finalized for talent scholarships that student-athletes can earn based on a mix of academic success, in-game accomplishments, and success in their respective game title, among other considerations.

In a lot of ways, Robinson epitomizes what’s possible and the doors that this new endeavor can open for Keene State students.

“I was first drawn to Keene State by the intimacy of the music program. The professors are amazing to a ridiculous degree, the people are nice, and the classes teach a ton of interesting and useful information,” he said. “As a more introverted person, I also like the relatively smaller campus and the small class sizes. … I might take my music degree and join an orchestra, or I might just go do something completely different! I’m not fully sure yet, but I have a few ideas and now esports logistics or background work is one of them!”

Rocket League competes on Mondays, Overwatch 2 on Tuesdays, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Thursdays. Qualifying teams advance to a postseason. Within its division, the Owls will face institutions large and small, as their tier includes opponents such as the University of Akron, Marietta College, and Syracuse University. According to NACE, more than 5,000 esports athletes participate in competitive video gaming.

The Owls’ Overwatch team competes for the first time on Feb. 6 against Lindenwood University, and their Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team opens on Feb. 8 versus SUNY-Farmingdale State College.

“As an alum and coach, tonight was a dream come true,” Drouin said of the opening victory. “Dozens of students and staff came to our watch party next door to show their support, and that meant a lot.”

Drouin said he invites all interested students to see firsthand the new competition space, to get involved, and to share in the excitement “of something special.”

Reach Coach Drouin

Learn more about Keene State esports

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