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Esports press conference

Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen, left, and Athletic Director Buster Gillis on Monday announced the formation of a varsity esports team this fall. 

A new type of athletic team is coming to Bismarck State College this fall: esports.

BSC is joining a growing number of schools offering varsity esports, or competitive video gaming. College officials are already actively recruiting students to join the team, including offering 50 $1,000 scholarships.

"It's one of the fastest-growing, emerging sports among our youth today," BSC Athletic Director Buster Gillis said Tuesday.

The esports movement is gaining traction at both the collegiate and high school levels.

This fall, at least 14 North Dakota high schools, including Mandan, have agreed to form an esports league. The University of Jamestown has established an esports team, and Dickinson State University will start one this upcoming school year.

The esports team at BSC will be led by Casey Mischel, who works for an information technology company in Mandan. It will be open to full-time students who will have to meet certain academic requirements to play.

These requirements will be established by the National Junior College Athletic Association, the governing body of athletics for two-year colleges and universities in the U.S., according to Gillis. BSC is a member of the association, which he said plans to add esports to its roster of official sports.

A room in the lower level of the BSC Student Union will soon be set up as a gaming room, complete with 25 computers and video game equipment. Gillis said the school will need to purchase the computers and equipment, but he was unsure of the cost.

The students will play four games: Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone and Fortnite. They'll be eligible for a national championship being established by the NJCAA.

Gillis and BSC President Larry Skogen called the addition of esports to the school's athletic programs a "win" for the college.

"Our students can receive enrichment credit as a varsity sport, and BSC in return will receive some revenue from the student (receiving) the credit," Gillis said.

Skogen said the esports program also could help fill workforce needs in computer science and cybersecurity fields.

"The students that are going to want to go into those programs are going to want to participate in some type of activity at the college level, as well. So if we can attract those students to Bismarck State College to participate in esports (while getting a degree), it's just a win," Skogen said.

He hopes the scholarships will entice more female students, who are underrepresented in computer science and related fields, to join esports.

Students interesting in competing in the 2019-20 Mystics esports season can apply online at bscmystics.com/recruits/esports_recruiting_form.

Gillis also said he hopes to eventually send college officials to recruit students from North Dakota high schools once they form their own esports teams.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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