Participants in Ball State's new esports team.
Members of Ball State’s new esports league. From left to right: Cassidy Jerke, Devin Welch, Julian Thomas, Alex Hornbach, and Wayne Uhlenhake. (Photos by Samantha Blankenship, ’15)

To say the varsity sports playing field has changed would be an understatement. It has literally entered a new realm.

Last Summer, Ball State created a 40-member varsity esports team. That’s in addition to a student club, Cardinal Esports, which boasts 500 members.

The varsity esports team connects Ball State with more than 300 colleges and universities already competing nationally in the burgeoning esports field.

For those less familiar, esports is a form of sports competition involving video games. Annually, it attracts about 5 million viewers worldwide. Esports jobs nearly doubled in the first half of 2019 compared with the first half of 2018. Esports revenues were expected to grow to $125 billion in 2020.

Last Fall, Ball State joined 11 other Mid-American Conference members in the 2020–21 season of the newly created Esports Collegiate Conference (ECC).

As conference participants, Ball State varsity team members compete at playing the video games Rocket League, Overwatch, and League of Legends. Championship winners become eligible for national competitions.

League of Legends is the most popular video game in the world right now,” said Alex Kartman, ’11 MA ’13, an associate lecturer of telecommunications who serves as the liaison between Ball State and ESC. “Students in the Cardinal Esports club can cheer on the varsity esports players, and vice versa.”

“Our varsity team makes Ball State even more attractive to high-achieving students around the nation,” said Paaige Turner, dean of Ball State’s College of Communication, Information, and Media.

The initiative enhances academic offerings by bringing esports experiences to multiple disciplines, from digital sports production, business and computer sciences, animation, and sports administration.

—Paaige Turner

Kartman, who also serves as director of Sports Production and overseer of CCIM’s Sports Link program, echoes those sentiments. “Now we are able to recruit students and let them live out their passions in a more organized capacity. It’s an opportunity to find new tech outlets for students to develop valuable talents.”

Climbing the ranks

Given the growing popularity of video gaming among college students in the U.S., Ball State couldn’t have picked a better time to enter the esports arena.

During the pandemic, players can compete from their dorm rooms and still learn valuable life lessons. “You cannot underestimate the skill of other people,” said Alex Hornbach, esports varsity player. “You must put in the time to climb the ranks.”

Varsity esports member and music media production major Wayne Uhlenhake appreciates the show of school spirit. He regards playing League of Legends as a means of connecting with a larger community.

“I made great friends playing the game, but also realized that I could be a good competitor,” Uhlenhake said. “The one thing Ball State has proven with its support of an esports program is that it’s willing to offer resources ahead of the tides of change.”

To serve as esports program director, coach, mentor, and educator, Ball State tapped Dan Marino, founder and former commissioner of Owlet esports, a community-based tournament for amateur players.

“Giving students opportunities to participate in varsity esports through different disciplinary lenses is key to building a strong and stable program,” said Marino, who also launched an esports program at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.

Dan Marino

Between our shared values and Ball State’s commitment to excellence in all areas, the decision to join the University was an easy one.

— Dan Marino

“Both Ball State University and I understand what college esports should be — a medium for student development,” said Marino. “This will give students skills and experiences they can use both in class and out.”

As an example of esports putting students on the road to success, Kartman mentioned Drew Adamson, a ’15 Ball State Sports Link alum, now the broadcast director of, an online motorsport racing simulation.

Adamson produced the first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Event on FOX. “It had over 900,000 viewers, making it the most watched esports program in TV history,” Kartman said.