In a matter of months, Esports at Michigan Tech has evolved from a club sport to a nationally ranked varsity sport. Much of that success can be credited to Kaitlyn Roose, MTU's first director of Esports.
In August 2019, Michigan Technological University became the first public college or university in Michigan to announce a varsity Esports program. Less than three months later, a director of Esports was named—and they didn’t have to go very far to get her. Kaitlyn Roose (KR), president and co-founder of the Esports Club at Michigan Tech and a mentor for the Husky Game Development Enterprise, got the job.
A lifelong gamer, Roose is pursuing a PhD in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors and also brings her background as a collegiate athlete to the fledgling program—she played varsity softball during her undergraduate career at Gannon University. As a gamer, she has more than seven years’ competitive gaming experience and has achieved respective ranks in the top 10 percent of the player base in Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends.
Q: How did you become involved with gaming, and eventually Esports?
KR: My brother is autistic and video games were one way that he could learn how to more effectively communicate and solve problems in a safe space. Bonding with my brother and watching us develop as people definitely solidified gaming as an important activity for me. As I got older, I transitioned to online multiplayer and challenging solo games. At Gannon, I made new friends and we started playing together online and in occasional tournaments. At MTU I wanted to seriously compete. Gaming will always be a part of my life and I am happy to be a part of the Esports movement and collegiate culture that allows students to challenge themselves, grow, and collaborate in and out of the classroom while doing something they love.
Q: MTU was the first public school in Michigan to announce a varsity Esports program. Do you feel any pressure to be successful from the very start?
KR: Michigan Tech has a reputation of daring, intelligent, highly motivated, and creative individuals solving difficult problems. MTU does not settle for being good—we strive to be excellent. So, is it a challenge to build a program from the ground up and live up to the MTU reputation? Absolutely, but Huskies do not back down. Also, I am fortunate to have the incredible wisdom and experience from the current coaching staff as well as excellent student support and passion.
Q: What does it take to make a successful Esports program?
KR: There are several very successful programs out there and thankfully there are directors and coaches willing to help other programs get started. One important thing to note is that what works for one school may not work for another. We know that MTU is unique and that certainly applies to building an Esports program. Research had been conducted here for several years on the topic, long before I was hired. In addition, connections were made with other institutions. But aside from researching other successful programs, a critical component is understanding how to optimize both the player and the viewer experience. Of course the players are the foundation of the program; focusing on the view and fan experience is how we will generate both excitement and traffic to the streams. The experience is about allowing people to interact and engage as much as possible.
Q: Female gamers face many challenges, including cyberbullying and, at the professional level, pay inequity. What steps will you take, or have you taken to ensure inclusion and equity in your program?
KR: This certainly is not an issue unique to Esports, but it is one that is more salient in the field. MTU is home to many backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and passions that we seek both to understand and celebrate. To do this I employ three methods: maintaining a meaningful presence, setting expectations, and fostering a community. After Dana Hustedt of Grand View University became the first female director of an Esports program, women have been hired as coaches, analysts, casters, and directors of programs. Seeing someone "like you" in a position of authority, who succeeds in what they do and maintains the integrity of who they are, despite challenges, can be very impactful.
Student-athletes are held to a very high standard at Michigan Tech and Esports athletes are no exception. Just because they’re behind a computer screen doesn’t mean they can remove responsibility for their actions. Our players are expected to represent MTU and themselves appropriately both in and out of the game and there is a no-tolerance policy for any discrimination, cyberbullying, harassment, or other malicious behavior toward others. Finally, fostering community is extremely important to ensure people feel welcome in our program, and that includes viewers.
Q: You were a collegiate athlete. What advantage does that give you as a coach building a program?
KR: The idea of gaming as a sport is foreign to many people, including students. When you know a student-athlete, you tend to pick up on the expectations, amount of commitment, and time management that is required of them. Esports student-athletes are no exception. Having been a traditional student-athlete myself, as well as a researcher of games, I am able to identify the parallels and "de-gamify" them for people. When you bring these connections to people’s attention, they start to get it. From a student-athlete perspective, I can more easily empathize with their struggles and celebrate their successes. At the end of the day, the students are trying to pursue a degree and my job as a coach is to mentor and help develop them to be better prepared for the workplace.
Esports know no bounds and can be enjoyed by anyone. We are ensuring the facility is both user friendly and accessible to as many people as possible. The department has been working very hard over the past year to ensure that we start strong and are continuously striving for excellence in the future for our student-athletes, viewers, and community. Game on, Huskies!
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.