Lyon College is now the only college in Arkansas with a professional esports player as the coach for its esports program. Lyon’s esports program is an official varsity program, affiliated with the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE).
Lyon College Esports Coach Austin Lonsert started his professional career as a paid competitor in 2014 with Blizzard Entertainment’s (BE) Heroes of the Storm. He played with three professional organizations—Lunatik Gaming, SK Gaming, and Cognitive Gaming, where his team ranked No. 3 in North America for Heroes of the Storm—before going on to win BE’s collegiate tournament: Heroes of the Dorm.
BE’s Heroes of the Dorm tournament starts with approximately 500 teams competing for the national title. Like the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March Madness, the tournament is single-elimination with a 64-team bracket. In each round, two teams play three sets to determine the winner.
“For the championship, we were flown out to Seattle and were on ESPN2 for the tournament,” said Lonsert. “We won the whole thing without dropping a single set.”
Lonsert was able to apply his tournament winnings to his tuition costs and graduate from Arizona State University with minimal debt. As Lyon’s new esports coach, he wants to train players and offer them the same opportunities he had.
“All these collegiate competitions give monetary prizes,” he said. “It can then be applied to your tuition and basically help pay for school.”
Besides scholarships and the chance to compete professionally, Lonsert explained players can also benefit mentally, academically, and even professionally.
“A lot of cognitive thinking goes into it,” he said. “Just like any sport, you have to do a lot of preparation, replays, training, and have a lot of discipline.”
“It also teaches you how to be a team player,” he added. “If you’re getting into esports for competition, you have to be able to conduct yourself as a professional. I was trained through my organizations.”
For Lyon’s program, Lonsert already has five titles he wants his players to participate in: League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., and Hearthstone. The roster is currently made up of 13 players, and Lonsert is still actively recruiting. He is also recruiting players to enroll in Lyon to join the team.
“Academics come first here at Lyon, so we heavily push the academic priority,” Lonsert added. Like other varsity sports, the program will have a GPA requirement.
Players will have the opportunity to travel for tournaments and compete in online tournaments. Preparations for an esports facility are underway, which will initially include 15 setups. The college anticipates opening the facility by fall semester 2019.
The facility will be dedicated for the use of team players who will each be given official jerseys that include sponsor affiliations. Players are also eligible for Lyon College scholarships.