Montana Grizzly esports team relishes victory and advances to Rocket League Finals | Grizzlies UM
MISSOULA — When the University of Montana’s Grizzly esports team debuted in 2019, program director Michael Cassens didn’t see winning as a primary goal.
He hoped for a team with a base of diversity and building a community that could uplift and support students competing and participating with the team – whether or not they were for the competitive side.
With that in mind, the game’s Grizzlies have also had a few wins lately, showing significant growth as a young program becoming a winning program as well.
March 27the Grizzly esports team Rocket League – a video game that is essentially football with cars played in teams of three – won the Big Sky conference title in the Electronic Gaming Federation College (EGFC) league, home to the Big 11 conferences Full time Sky. schools, although not all have a Rocket League team.
The conference title, which Montana won by defeating Northern Arizona, qualified the Grizzlies for the EGFC National Championships on April 28 where the athletes will compete remotely.
“It’s always something we hope for our players and we always look for them to be celebrated in this way,” said Cassens, who is a professor at UM’s School of Visual and Media Arts, last week in a telephone interview. “… We were lucky in this case to have been able to win and we are very grateful for that. … I think for them to see the hard work pay off is a great thing.
“But they didn’t have to sacrifice everything else. We always make sure that academics and our principles of inclusivity come first,” he added. “We put those things on top and the competitiveness will follow, and if they see if that’s the result, I think they’re really happy about it.”
The program as a whole, not just the Rocket League team, brings together students from a variety of disciplines, as you’ll find on any NCAA-sanctioned track and field team. Business majors, communication majors, graphic designers and artists are all represented. When the program started a few years ago, some former UM golfers and goaltenders joined.
“We accept anyone at any level when it comes to playing. We have a policy that says ‘No matter your background, we want you to come and play with us and know you have the same support as if you were on any other competitive varsity team,” Cassens said.
This support structure that Cassens spoke of did not develop overnight. While a mainstay of the team’s founding, Cassens looked to his wife’s experience as a collegiate cross country and trail runner at UM, admiring the structure and supporting the program offered.
So he took some of what he saw and admired and implemented it into the esports program.
“It’s such a fundamental part of the sport and I think it was such a gift and allowed (my wife) to go to school,” he said. “We offer scholarships to help reduce the cost and burden of going to school. We try to make it fairer for our students, but they don’t have to be the best player in the country to come. here. We just want them to come be part of our community and give back to our community.
“The only requirement we have is that they are part of what we do and at least one of the charity events we do every year,” he added. “Then they have all the support that goes with it.”
The program has grown rapidly after attracting interest from 90 students in 2019, a number that has grown to around 250 now, but current Rocket League team member Blake Heintzelman hasn’t heard of the program. Grizzly program until an announcement appeared on its online class. shell.
He said he’s met some of his closest friends in the team, but recent wins have made things even sweeter, as Cassens said.
“Winning is definitely not everything,” Heintzelman, who joined the team around January 2021, said last week by phone. “We always try to have fun, but when you have a two-half tournament undefeated season, when that happens, you really want to see what you can accomplish. Northern Arizona was the only team to beat us. in those two semesters, and he was the one we beat to win the Big Sky Conference, so that little rematch was great.”
With victories in Rocket League and highly competitive teams in Overwatch, Apex Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Fortnite, and League of Legends, Cassens hopes to see the program continue to grow and grow. The program hopes to help rural high schools build teams and create a Montana-centric league, potentially expanding access to a growing but often inaccessible sport.
He noted that Montana Tech, Carroll and Montana State all have teams that compete in various other games — Providence does as well and East Helena High School is forming a team — but Cassens wants to see esports grow more and more in the game. state at the secondary level. .
“Getting them this place is really what’s important,” he said. “To know that, not only can they study something and be passionate about something, but also recreate and be part of something too.”