Electronic sports, or esports, has become one of the most popular sports in the world, and campuses such as Dickinson State have become interested in the product, attracting the attention of students. They can either play just for fun, or level up and play for the Dickinson State Blue Hawks esports program.

With this season being the inaugural season of the esports program for Dickinson State, the program currently has four competitive teams, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, Rocket League and Apex Legends.

“I just think it’s the way of the future,” Josh Nichols, the coordinator of the esports program, said. “It’s such a huge industry, it’s such a big growing sport and I think people are taking it more seriously as it goes on.”

With the esports program becoming more and more popular, it is becoming more competitive to recruit players to come to Dickinson State.

“We’re seeing a wide growth nationwide in enrollments, scholarship programs and I’ve talked to students that (said), ‘are you going to offer me a full-ride scholarship? Because I’ve got a couple other offers from other institutions to play (esports)’ and that’s totally new, that’s kind of unheard of,” Nichols said.

Students partaking in the events can enjoy their favorite games and create bonding experiences with their teammates.

“I think for DSU, it’s a great opportunity to fill a need in North Dakota,” Nichols said. “I think it’s going to be huge for enrollment, and also engagement on campus for students. … If you come here for a theater degree, or you come here for football, or you come here for esports, if you can get engaged on campus, whatever is your passion, go for it.”

With the success of the esports program, competition is busy.

“This week we have literally a game every single night, so the lab is booked up. We have no available space except for Saturday and Sunday evenings,” Nichols said. “So we’re looking at how we can expand and how we can offer more games and more teams.”

The Blue Hawks esports programs are able to compete against other NAIA colleges but are also competing against some of the most well-known NCAA Division I schools in the country.

“Dickinson State is leading the forefront,” Nichols said. “We’ve had a lot of success, especially the Rocket League team. … They’re doing a really good job and they’re placing very well for us. Before the playoffs we were ranked in the top 40 teams out of about 450 … and now we’re in the playoffs so we’re kind of playing against some of these big dogs.

“And that’s one of the things that is really cool about this — we’re not limited by a geographical location or certain conference. We played Boise State last week, our Rainbow Six Siege team played the University of Alabama — we’re playing against these huge universities.”

Nichols is the only professional staff member and the only person running the program. However the esports program is financially sustainable due to the limited funds needed after the equipment and room is paid for and set up. But Nichols mentioned that he would love to see more games and teams get added to the program, including for games such as Madden, FIFA or 2k.

Nichols encourages those who view the program as just video games to give esports a chance.

“A lot of people come in there and they’re like, ‘oh, esports is just games.’ Well, try it out. Watch it and see what you like. It’s not going to be for everybody,” Nichols said. “I think a lot of people might find enjoyment in something they otherwise might not have.”