The varsity and club-level esports teams at Champlain College now have a new place to train and compete.
The school’s new esports arena in Burlington’s South End has more than two dozen PC stations, a dedicated training room and a full broadcasting suite for live-streaming. Sebastian Meredith, a senior on the varsity team for Valorant, a first-person shooter game, has watched the program come a great distance in a short time.
“I was on the team when it was just a small club team when we all played remote, and to see it grow to be this program over a year has been incredible,” Meredith said. “I grew up watching some games — watching my friends play games — never thought that I would be playing in such an environment where I would have coaches and managers and people looking at everything I’m doing.”
Coach Charlie Kowalski, a 2022 graduate, said many players came from Champlain’s four-year video game development program, which has been around since 2004.
“It’s really a good way to get people into the school, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. We’re a game development, game-focused school. To have our biggest sport be esports, it’s kind of a perfect mix.”
Champlain esports director, Christian Konczal, was studying for a Master’s in Fine Arts a few years ago. He was one of the first people to recognize that varsity esports would be a natural fit on campus.
“We petitioned to make it happen, but five years ago, the landscape was very different,” Konczal said. “I think there were maybe three or four programs happening at that time, and now there’s over 200, 250.”
This past spring semester, Champlain officially became one of those competitive programs. The student-led effort to reach that point was nearly a decade in the making.
Champlain president Alex Hernandez helped open the arena Thursday by playing what he said was his first esports match. He defeated student government president Martina Monroe in Rocket League, a varsity-level game.
“I’m just so inspired by their leadership,” Hernandez said. “They really created and bought this whole esports arena and program to life. We’re going to welcome people from the community, and I think it’s just going to be a real jewel for our state.”