MISSOULA, Mont. — The University of Montana has a formidable esports team that was ranked first in the Big Sky Conference before COVID-19. The tournament was shut down, but two months later the teams were able to play, and the Griz fell to Montana State in the semifinals.
Coach Jimmy Stauder says it didn’t matter where they finished in their inaugural season -- it’s about getting people together.
“The one thing that connects students more than anything is everybody plays games, “said Stauder.
As an avid gamer himself, Stauder says he loves coaching and is grateful the university allowed them to give esports a shot.
“We feel that this is just the beginning, and it is just going to get bigger and bigger. We’re very grateful to the university for giving us a chance to see how it works, and I think we’ve proven how successful we can be.”
When the program started, organizers weren’t sure how many people would show up.
“I knew the professor really well, and he was like, ‘We’ll do this and maybe get 10 players,’ and then the very first week we get 70 players showing up,” said Stauder.
After that great showing and the help of a professor, UM is now offering scholarships to students, but in a different way than other schools.
“This isn’t necessarily like an athletic scholarship; we’re not offering scholarships to our best players. We’re offering it to the leaders of our communities,” said Stauder.
Focusing on enjoying the program as opposed to wins and losses has paid off.
“This year has proven to be a success. All our teams are doing well -- our premier team was No. 1 in the Big Sky, and we have four or five competitive teams, and all of them have high winning records,” said Stauder. “We don’t really care about winning as much as the culture.”
After all, it’s about getting people to be a part of something -- and that translates to students around the globe.
“One of our very first players and one of our real leads of the community, her name was Nikita, and she was a transfer student who was here for one semester from Australia. We play with her every day; she’s kind of seeing how Montana was and got in this program and really took off with it and is coming back to university full-time, “said Stauder.
Proof there is more than one way to get people to come to the University of Montana.