WMU building $500K esports arena, starting club team


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University is getting a new club sports program.

There’s no need to run laps, lift heavy weights or hit a baseball. That’s because the new esports initiative wants students who are good at winning video games.

“For me, I was a sports guy throughout high school,” said WMU student Will Garetto-Balmer. “I was actually supposed to play college football. Unfortunately, I got hurt, and I needed a competition to keep going.”

That’s when Garetto-Balmer turned to competitive video gaming.

Now, WMU is spending $500,000 to create an esports arena, which means gaming will become a university club sport at WMU like women’s hockey, rugby and figure skating.

“We definitely do want to create a schedule, like you have a football schedule,” said Scott Puckett, senior director of IT for WMU Business and Finance. “We want to have an esports schedule where we line up with other schools to play them.”

Not just any student can join the team.

“We do want students to try out for the team,” Puckett says. Esports is only new in the United States and interest is intensifying, especially compared to Asia where professional gamers are paid salaries, he said.

Puckett said he thinks the new club sport will help recruit and retain students.

“Actually, some schools have already gotten sponsors who are giving scholarships,” he said. “That would be a great goal for us as this program matures.”

WMU’s goal is to have the esports arena open this fall. Competition among schools will begin shortly after that.

“I’m just really excited that Western’s giving us the opportunity to show that we’re just as good as all the other sports and we can compete with them,” Garetto-Balmer said.