Trine University builds esports into its plans

Trine University in Indiana has grown its esports program recently and is constructing an esports area within an $11.5 million athletics facility called the MTI Center. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Trine University has made news in its state for several athletics initiatives in the past couple years, from adding the only varsity women's ice hockey team in Indiana to adding two multimillion-dollar sports facilities in a matter of two years.

Although it seems to have slipped in thanks to the low cost ceiling for esports, Trine's varsity program, which features one of the best Overwatch teams in the country, is also making a big leap this winter.

Growing its pool of varsity athletics has been part of Trine's plans, and its financial future. But in 2016, when plans for a $16 million project that would add two athletics buildings to the campus were announced, an esports facility wasn't part of the plan.

That changed when Alex Goplin, now the director of esports for Trine, made his pitch to the university's board of trustees.

"It was kind of a thing that came out of nowhere a bit," said Goplin, who is also an assistant director of admission for the school. "They saw a ton of benefits along with esports, not only the enrollment side of things but the retention side of things in keeping students."

Space for an esports hub was added to the plans for the MTI Center, an $11.5 million project the Angola, Indiana, institution already had in its renovation schedule. The MTI Center will also include a 3,000-seat arena, three basketball courts, a fitness center, a six-lane bowling alley and other facilities.

Along the way, the addition of the esports space, though seemingly small compared to the other renovations around campus, put Trine in possession of one of the best esports facilities in the U.S. Goplin said the program will have 35 gaming stations in its new area, which will open to players Dec. 18 and the public shortly afterward. There will also be "bring-your-own spots" for students not on the teams.

"We've put a lot of money into our campus in the past 10 to 15 years and really transformed our campus," Goplin said. "It was kind of just natural as we were adding a new building and having a new building come online. I reached out to the Robert Morrises of the world to see what we would need to start up the program and what we would need to keep the program going."

Trine, which is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, fields teams in League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Rocket League. Goplin held a call-out meeting, and almost immediately, he had several rosters worth of players for various games.

This fall, Trine had 68 players across several games this year, with 21 freshmen or new students among them. Players are eligible for the $2,000 Esports Activity Award that stacks on top of merit-based aid depending on performance and academic requirements.

Trine has made its biggest mark thus far in Overwatch. The school competed in the inaugural season of the NACE Overwatch Invitational and will play in the third-place game against South Carolina-Sumter on Dec. 8. The only schools to have beaten Trine so far are Miami (Ohio) and Georgia Southern, both of which made the finals.

"We went up against two much larger schools," Goplin said of Trine, which has an enrollment of around 5,000. "And we want to compete for titles. I don't know how far away we are from that, but it's definitely something to strive for."

Editor's note: With most programs taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no "What to watch for" this week. College esports programming highlights will return Dec. 1.