Esports, the fastest growing competitive activity in the world, is now on the rise locally as both Marshalltown Community College and Marshalltown High School launch their new programs this fall, making Marshalltown a potential hotspot for video game competition and unique educational opportunities.
Andrew Goforth — the MCC esports coach and professor of English and literature — volunteered to take the reins for the developing esports ideas earlier this year because he has extensive video game experience having graduated from Grand View University, one of the top esports schools in Iowa, and participating in their growing program. The launching of esports at MCC is supported by Dean of Academic Affairs Vincent Boyd and Provost Robin Lilienthal, who believe the program will be well worth the investment.
Marshalltown gave me a shot. I’m very thankful for that. I’m also very thankful for the fact that they believed in me to put this program together,” Goforth said. “Opportunities like this just don’t show up very often.”
The other face of MCC esports is Marshalltown native Nate Rodemeyer, who is also a promising asset to the newly founded program, and will lead the management program as a faculty member this fall. For the past 10 years, he has been teaching social studies at Williamsburg High School, where he coached their esports team for three years and served as the president of the Iowa High School Esports Association (IAHSEA) this past year. Rodemeyer has seen the growth in esports first hand as the number of high school teams went from 12 three years ago to 31 by the end of the next year. When he recently left for the MCC position, there were 67 high school esports teams in the IAHSEA.
While there are already collegiate esports teams established in the National Junior College Athletic Association for Esports (NJCAAE), the MCC program is offering more than just a sanctioned team by launching the first and only esports management program in Iowa. Within the management program, there is a diploma program which requires 33 credit hours of study and an associate degree management program which will require 64 credit hours. Both newly graduated and non-traditional students can attain an official coaching certification and/or establish a degree path which will allow people who are already in that field of study to continue education and/or legitimize past competitive gaming experience.
The esports management program is already offering internship opportunities and scholarships based on various criteria including students’ competitive ability, ambition, teamwork, leadership and other positive aspects of sportsmanship. This will create opportunities beyond video gaming, allowing students to participate behind the scenes and in paid positions such as helping staff the lab and operating the space with or without instructors. For example, a student will run analytics for the team, and there will possibly be an intern shared with the marketing team specializing in social media communications and promotions.
“Being a community college, MCC can offer those work-based positions to students, and they can get paid, get scholarship money and get that worthwhile experience,” Rodemeyer said. “This will give fresh grads and non-trads an edge over others in the job market because a lot of the classes will be built around building a portfolio, having stuff you can show off, things you’ve done, produced and events you’ go put on, not just studies.”
While the new esports lab is still being renovated, quality equipment has been purchased including three flat screen TVs for console gaming, PCs, white boards for strategy and an instructor station, making it one of the most opulent facilities in the state.
Both PC and Nintendo Switch will be used for competition, but PC gaming will not start until the Fall ’23 semester. Nintendo Switch competition games include Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. while PC games will include Overwatch 2, Rainbow Six: Siege, Call of Duty Warzone, Rocket League and Valorant.
Since any competition is not expected to start until spring, this fall will be a time for team-building and ironing out necessary details to become a functioning and thriving program. Tryouts will be held on Aug. 8-9, and every student must participate in the bootcamp. While at least 10 students are already signed up for the team in the fall, the ultimate goal is to land somewhere closer to 50 team members. Moving forward, the competitions will be held year-round, both fall and spring, and only against other NJCAAE esports teams.
MHS principal Jacque Wyant is equally excited for the launching of esports at the high school level this fall. This will create variety for extracurricular activities and give students another avenue to find a sense of belonging and the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a team. When Dean of Students Dan Terrones has sponsored fun activities nights this past school year, students voiced their yearning for an organized video game club or even an established competition team.
As MHS will be joining the IAHSEA, there will be JV and Varsity teams for all three seasons: fall, winter and spring. No traveling will be necessary since there is a lab dedicated to the program which can also be used for students who wish to participate on a club level, not on the JV or Varsity teams.
MHS will follow suit with MCC by emphasizing Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart as the center of competition.
“Everything that we do at the high school, we try to tie back to programs that are at the community college anyway,” Wyant said.
Recognizing the parallels in opportunities between high school and college is essential to getting in tune with students’ educational needs. Teachers are more tentatively looking into careers that they did not even know existed so that the curriculum will cater to future student success.
Wyant hopes that bringing esports to MHS will break some stigmas regarding video gaming and present skeptical parents with the fruitful opportunities that could potentially be in store for their children.
“People just don’t understand or are just becoming aware of the amount of money that is going into this new world of gaming,” said Wyant.
After conducting some research alongside other area high schools, leaders at MHS have little to no reservations about allowing even first-person shooter games as long as students have written permission from parents. By establishing esports, MHS is optimistic that it will support positive personal characteristics similar to traditional sports such as sportsmanship, leadership and ambition.
“I think I had probably the most apprehension having had my youngest, who is 20. So he’s grown up playing video games since early on, before middle school. And so I was really reserved about Call of Duty and some of those other first-person shooter games,” Wyant admitted.
This program could also be yet another binding agent that keeps students who do not participate in traditional sports closely tied with school, involved and ultimately more likely to graduate.
The potential symbiotic relationship between MCC and MHS could prove to be a driving force behind making Marshalltown a hub for esports and continuing education through such avenues.