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The ‘Next Boise State’ Is Definitely Not UCF...It Might Not Even Be A Football Team

Boise State eSports head coach, Chris Haskell contemplates strategy with his players
Mike Wilson, Boise State

Humble beginnings

About two decades ago, the plucky football team from Boise State, with its blue field and unflinching commitment to play anyone, anytime, anywhere started to make waves on the national scene. They seemed to place special emphasis on the ‘anytime’ and ‘anywhere’ parts to secure commitments from a litany of big-time ‘anyones’ to play them. More often than not, they put those teams away in convincing fashion. Just in the years that followed the greatest college football game of all time, the Broncos claimed many early season victories over eventual Power 5 (formerly BCS) conference champions. A win over the Pac-10 champion Ducks in 2009 was followed by a victory over the ACC champion Hokies in 2010, and the SEC East champion Bulldogs in 2011 and so on and so forth. They would win those games and then steamroll through their conference to be in a position for a big bowl game at the end of the season.

Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This formula is how Boise State, a mid-major program, was able to ascend into the highest division in college football, compile the nation’s highest win percentage since 2000 there, and not only demand respect, but also maintain it. That’s why whenever other mid-major programs have a good season, there’s always talk of them being “the next Boise State”. That label is a product of Boise State’s sustained success that, despite an occasional ‘down’ year (which would constitute a dream season for most schools) has made them the undisputed premier brand among Group of 5 schools. Sorry (but not all), UCF.

However, what if I told you that the actual, “next Boise State”...was Boise State? Kind of. If you change around the sport just a tiny bit, it actually starts to become very true.

Well, I may have wildly embellished the ‘tininess’, because I’m not talking about physical sports at all. I’m talking about Boise State and their place amidst the exploding domain of collegiate eSports.

Wut is an esports?

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole of why Boise State eSports is “the next Boise State”, it would probably behoove us to briefly cover what eSports are. Electronic sports are computer games, played competitively. In particular, the games that foster enough competition to appeal to a spectating industry are ones that focus on strategy and/or teamwork. So, for example, Overwatch (Like football, but with guns, amidst buildings, and no stoppages in play), League of Legends (Also kind of like football, but instead of just getting to the other team’s ‘end zone’ on a map full of obstacles and the other team’s minions, you have destroy it), Hearthstone (Essentially the digital version of attribute-based, strategy card games), Rocket League (soccer, but—wait for it...played with cars bumping the ball around), and Starcraft2 (kind of like Risk but in space, played on a computer, and matches aren’t long enough for your cousin to flip over the table and rage quit. Bonus: There is no Australia to fight over control of). Boise State competes in all five of these games.

The eagle has LANded

On a professional and international level, eSports has been growing for a number of years. Like really fast. More recently however, institutions of higher learning have thrown themselves into that world and the result has been an exponentially growing field of competition. Starting in September of 2017, Boise State entered that field as one of the earlier adopters. While there were over 600 schools that competed in eSports in 2018, Boise State and some others are among the 230 or so that have varsity programs. Developed under the care of Dr. Chris Haskell (who, fun fact, was one of the Buster Broncos from the 90s) and Dr. Brett Shelton, Boise State was just the third FBS school to create a varsity team. In the amount of time that Boise State has been playing, they already have the most wins of any collegiate varsity program and are ranked within the top 10. Starting to sound familiar?

The ideal conference

Boise State eSports has found itself ideally positioned to continue its success by being in a highly involved conference. Every school in the Mountain West conference competes in at least some of the eSports games, and they were the first FBS conference to do that. What this means is that the Boise State eSports team can compete along with the other sports at the school, week to week, in conference play. This is great, because it gives us at least one more opportunity to watch Boise State beat Fresno or Reno per season, in whatever week the football team plays them. Not to mention a whole new stream of #RamsTears. Additionally, hearkening back to that original formula for Boise State’s success on the gridiron, the Boise State eSports team has set up a high-profile, early season tilt with Florida State’s eSports team, the same week that Harsin and the boys will be heading to Florida to take on the Seminoles.

Since starting competition in 2017, Boise State has been the conference champion in the Mountain West in Rocket League (2018 and 2019), Overwatch (2019), and was a runner up in League of Legends in both 2018 and 2019. Boise State and San Jose State both advanced to the National Championship Tournament for League of Legends in 2019.

Up next is NACE 2019: A ‘digital bowl game’...of sorts

Boise State will be competing this Wednesday against the University of Harrisburg in an Overwatch tournament, in a scenario that is roughly equivalent to a bowl game. Boise State is actually considered the underdog in this matchup. While former university president, Dr. Kustra, did say not long ago that the goal is for Boise State to be the Alabama (or Clemson, this year) of eSports, currently it is Harrisburg, as reigning national champion, that retains that distinction. Boise State does tend to relish the underdog role, though, so it should be a great opportunity to make an even bigger impression on a big stage.

Last writes

There are just a few, final details you might want to know about the Boise State eSports team:

  • While Boise State football plays its games in Albertsons Stadium, the surface itself is Lyle Smith Field. Similarly, Boise State eSports spectators (up to 60 of them in person; limitless online) can come view competitions on the ‘Boise State Battleground powered by OMEN’ from the comfort of the plethora of beanbag chairs in the ‘Boise State Gamepants Esports Arena’. The players’ chairs themselves sit on a platform that is carpeted with a large piece of...THE ORIGINAL BLUE TURF FROM BRONCO STADIUM IN 1986! The whole setup looks a little something like this:
  • Boise State eSports is co-ed, with both men and women competing side by side. Boise State was actually the first collegiate eSports program to have a female team captain. Also, for those wondering, eSports is not subject to Title IX as it is not beholden to NCAA regulations.
  • Regarding other administrative details, Boise State eSports is classified as “self-support” and doesn’t receive any permanent monies from the university.
  • Catering to the development of more than just gamers, the Boise State eSports program has an incredible setup that can help in building the skill of casters, video editors, and general content creators. They have an in-house system to create highlight clips for distribution in real time that is top of the line.
  • Recruiting new students to the university is always a key focus, and with eSports, the Boise State department of education technology has a new recruiting tool with particular appeal to high level international students from the countries where eSports are already enshrined as virtual national pastimes. Among others, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Germany.

Boise State is yet again a pioneer

Just as the university has been a pioneer in the academics that brought about DNA nanotechnology and the athletics that made Boise State a household name in college football, the Boise State eSports program will continue to contribute to a growing and developing legacy of excellence. If nothing else, it gives us one more avenue to cheer for our favorite kind of horse.

If you’d like to follow the exploits of the next iteration of blue and orange, overachieving underdogs, here’s how:

Hopefully you have found this crash course helpful in informing you about one of the next, big technology things so that you don’t end up at a dinner party looking like Katie Couric discussing internet for the first time when someone brings up eSports. We’ll keep you posted on future developments with the program. In the meantime...

As always (and forever), GO BRONCOS!