During his time at Kansas Wesleyan University, Layne Shirley built and established the school’s varsity esports program. This was the fifth university to offer scholarships for competitive gaming, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 per student.

High-tech arena

“This took a lot of time, meetings and dedication to get this program off the ground,” says Shirley. “Most of these meetings showed administration what positives we could bring to the university by establishing an esports program.”  The Kansas Wesleyan University esports team has a dedicated arena for their gamers to compete and practice. The arena is equipped with high-speed gaming PCs, racing chairs, top of line keyboards, mice, headsets and gaming monitors.

Spreading esports

“Since graduating, Shirley has found himself in a full-time position doing what he is most passionate about — esports.”

Since graduating, Shirley has found himself in a full-time position doing what he is most passionate about — esports. Currently he is the Esports Manager for the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), located in Kansas City, Missouri. NACE is the only association dedicated to the creation and support of college varsity esports programs. Currently NACE has 47 member schools and is growing at a rapid rate that shows no signs of slowing down. “We’re talking to at least three or four new schools every single day,” says Michael Brooks, executive director of NACE. “We did not expect this type of reaction.”

Going pro

Evan Lawson, who was a scholarship student for Robert Morris University in Chicago, has now graduated and is playing professionally for Just Toys Havoks, a Latin American League of Legends team based in Mexico. When it comes to playing at the collegiate level compared to playing professionally, there are some similarities, but there are also major differences. “The main difference of collegiate compared to pro league is the overall drive level of the players,” share Lawson. “At a professional level, we are all in everyday to improve and grow as a team. At Robert Morris, we had players who would want to improve but still had to study for a test the next day, so it wasn’t a priority.”

IT PAYS TO PLAY: Esports programs not only give students the opportunity to qualify for scholarships, but enable them with valuable life lessons such as time management, organization and teambuilding.

Off-screen benefits

Playing in college not only helped Evan transition to professional play, it also helped him when it came to being an adult in the real world. Gaming helped Lawson with time management, which was a struggle for him in early years of play. Lawson has also learned how to adapt to certain situations and conflicts within a team setting. “The coach we had at RMU, Drake Porter, was the best coach I have ever worked with, and he really helped me develop as a player and an adult,” Lawson says.

Lawson feels very fortunate going from collegiate to professional competition with such an understanding organization. “Just Toys Havoks needed me during the summer, so I got to play on the pro team during the time when school wasn’t in session,” recalls Lawson. “I also made my intentions very clear that I was still very interested in returning to school after the summer split of the League of Legends. It was really interesting and cool to sort of get a taste of both experiences, going from collegiate to pro, then back to collegiate again.”