A man smiles as he poses for a picture in front of a glass and brick building

This Fall, the University will compete against 11 other members of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in the newly created Esports Collegiate Conference (ESC).

Ball State’s Alex Kartman was one of the people who helped make it happen. An associate lecturer of telecommunications, Kartman is also director of Sports Production and oversees the nationally acclaimed Sports Link program for the College of Communication, Information and Media.

Known as a passionate advocate for student interests, he also serves as liaison between Ball State and the ESC, which involves MAC schools but operates independently.  

Kartman is a graduate of Ball State University with a bachelor’s in telecommunications, ’11, and a master’s in telecommunications (digital storytelling), ’13.

He took time to chat with Ball State Magazine about the launch of esports at Ball State and why it’s a potential gamechanger.

A logo featuring a cardinal wearing a headset above the words Ball State Esports
For the University’s new varsity esports team, alumnus and Ball State creative strategist Jason Fragomeni designed the above logo.

What is esports?

Esports is competitive video gaming. But one misconception is that it’s just sports games. These are games that are popular worldwide. As a part of the ESC, Ball State will compete in titles such as Rocket League, Overwatch and League of Legends.

League of Legends is the most popular video game in the world right now. It’s kind of like digital Capture the Flag. The conference is considering expanding into FIFA (soccer) and Madden (football) to help develop a crossover to sports fans.

How big is esports?

More than 300 colleges and universities in the United States already compete in esports. But it’s also become a huge spectator sport worldwide.

The League of Legends international championship sells out giant stadiums. Across all platforms, esports has 500 million viewers a year. It’s mostly broadcast on the website Twitch, but you even see ESPN picking it up more.

Esports is here, and when you have schools like Ball State, Ohio State, and Butler getting into the action, you can’t ignore it.

What’s the benefit to Ball State?

The upside is almost limitless. The current trend is that Xennials and Generation C see esports as a primary entertainment outlet. We are able to recruit students and let them live out their passions in a more organized capacity. Students in the Cardinal Esports Club can cheer on varsity esport students, and visa versa. It’s about fostering passions.

Already, in the Ball State club team there are more than 500 students. Our club is really good too. The varsity team will probably have 30-40 students.

It’s also an opportunity to find new tech outlets for students to develop valuable talents. Gaming is a huge industry. In fact, one of our Sports Links alums, Drew Adamson, ’15, is the broadcast director at iRacing.com and produced the first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event on FOX. It had over 900,000 viewers, making it the most-watched esports program in TV history.

How did you get involved with ESC?

In my role with the Sports Link program, we were exploring ways to broadcast and connect with esports as a growing trend. I’ve been in charge with that initiative and working with the esports club on campus. Before I knew it, I was selected to be a liaison.

Are you a gamer?

I am a casual gamer. I admit I am not good. My current game of choice is Red Dead Redemption 2. I have two little kids and I’m finally getting around to it now that they are sleeping through the night. But I get obliterated when I try my hand at online competition.

What I look forward to in video games is storytelling. I gravitate toward games with strong story development. When I play a game, my time is trying to connect to the stories.

What games did you grow up with?

I grew up with a Sega Genesis. I grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, NBA Jam, college football games, early Madden. I shifted to a Playstation 2 when that came out.

Is it safe to say esports are pandemic-proof?

Absolutely. It has been proven throughout the pandemic. Viewership is way up. The model for the last five years was to create large in-person events. But they’ve gone back to their roots of being online-based competition. We’ve seen it work out with NASCAR and iRacing and League of Legends and more.

Here at Ball State, we are still figuring out what competition is going to look like this fall and how to ensure safety. But it is possible for students to compete from their dorm rooms. 

So, what’s the next step at Ball State?

We are in the process of hiring a director of Esports and fully organizing the team. Fall season is still happening and the announced title is Rocket League. Soon we’ll hold tryouts and identify student captains. They may have to provide some of the leadership while we search for a coach. But the season will start regardless, and eventually the coaching position will be filled.

Long term, we will find opportunities for scholarship and community outreach and find ways to engage with Muncie and Indiana to represent Ball State.