Growing A College Esports Program In The COVID Era: Chatting With Timothy Belloff


Collegiate esports is a train that no school wants to miss.

Whereas five years ago only a few schools in North America had a varsity esports program, that number is exponentially growing as more and more universities seek to enter the world of competitive video games.

Arcadia University is one of those schools that recently entered the fray, making its varsity esports program debut in the 2019-2020 season. Starting out with League of Legends and Overwatch, Arcadia Esports has proven popular, with multiple new games being added to the program and rosters filling up.

Like many other schools across the country, Arcadia has faced an unprecedented challenge in its first year in competitive gaming: the coronavirus pandemic. The varsity esports program has been forced to deal with this, alongside other early growing pains. Even still, video games and streaming have proven to be a prevailing source of competition and entertainment when other avenues have been shut down due to the pandemic.

Timothy Belloff, the Director of Esports at Arcadia University, has recognized esports’ potential to push on through these troubling times, and while the program has undoubtedly faced problems throughout the past year, there has been tremendous growth as well.

We got to ask Timothy Belloff a few questions about starting up an esports program at Arcadia, the ups and downs of the past year, and how Arcadia University will move forward in these uncertain times, among other things. Check it out!

What was the process like in starting up an esports program at Arcadia University?

Belloff: The process was pretty in-depth, but a lot of fun. We had to prepare the administration for what an esports program could do. 

We initially met to plan out what it would look like with Athletics; this involved making several presentations where we outlined what esports is, how it works, and what a program could look like at Arcadia. 

The whole process took almost a year from initial concepts to approval. This included: working with a campus advisory group (faculty, staff, students and alumni), game selection, hardware selection, design and construction of the arena, hiring of the staff (coaches and directors) and recruitment of students to participate in the program.

Over a year later, what are the noticeable benefits of the esports program? What are some of the challenges that Arcadia University has had to face with the program?

Belloff: There have been so many benefits from the program over the first year. The most noticeable is that we were able to recruit 15 new students for our program in the first year. This was a huge accomplishment as our initial goal for recruitment was 5-7 students. 

I would say the biggest challenge we are facing, as I am sure this is the same for most programs, is COVID. It has hindered our ability to recruit effectively (although we are still doing well). Competing has not suffered due to COVID, however, as we were nimble enough to continue competing remotely with our students.

Arcadia Esports has teams for the more popular esports games such as League of Legends and Overwatch. Recently, it was announced that there would be rosters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Rainbow Six Siege. How do you decide which games will have a roster in the program, and how do you go about implementing these changes?

Belloff: We are constantly looking at games and whether they can be added to the program. With our ability to add so many new students to our roster, we had the opportunity to add games and provide a more robust experience for students. 

We utilize our advisory council to flesh out game options for competition; we then discuss the pros and cons of each title. We look for competition opportunities and decide if the game would ultimately make sense in our program. Once a decision is made we then go about hiring a coach and recruiting for the game.

With the esports program being so new, there must’ve been a lot planned that was thrown for a loop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How did Arcadia Esports adapt to this unprecedented challenge? What are the long term plans for the program for when things eventually return to normal?

Belloff: COVID certainly threw a wrench into our plans. When it first hit and athletics were cancelled, our administration included esports into the cancellations. We had to ask this to be reconsidered, as esports is in the unique position to be able to compete remotely with no physical contact with other athletes. 

This was approved and we have continued to compete since COVID hit. We will compete remotely until it is deemed safe to return to campus and open our arena again. Our long term plans are to reopen and continue to utilize the space as always; ideally, we will have streaming and casting happening during this time.

What is the week-to-week schedule like for players who participate in the esports programs? What do they do in terms of practicing, competing in matches and tournaments, etc?

Belloff: That honestly depends on the game that they are playing, but an average week would be about 3-4 days of practice a week (in-season). Our teams usually compete in 2 different leagues each semester giving them about 1-2 days of competition each week. We look for tournaments as well, and try to get each team one or two tournaments a semester. 

At Arcadia, our esports program is under the Athletics program, so each of our players is considered to be a Varsity athlete: this means that they have all the same access to training facilities, strength and conditioning, and other items that any other athlete would have access to.

We work with each student to make sure academics is a priority and besides practices, each coach has an academic monitoring plan to work with their students during the week as well.

Arcadia Esports has stood out for diversity and gender inclusion on their esports teams. What do you think Arcadia Esports does differently than other universities to get more diverse representation in their program?

Belloff: We are open to anyone who wants to compete. As a program when we first started, we came together as a team and developed our “Team Norms” which are posted in our arena. These are guidelines and rules the team will adhere to when representing Arcadia on the esports team. They address behavior, diversity of ideas and gender identity. 

We have a no tolerance policy for anyone who behaves otherwise.

Players will clearly get into the program to compete in their favorite esports titles, but college esports can offer more than just a venue to play at. What are some key takeaways for students who go through Arcadia Esports? Can the program prepare students for a potential career in esports?

Belloff: We hope to be able to allow students the opportunity to grow in the esports world through our program. Many of our players help in all aspects of our program including recruiting, coaching, casting and production of esport content. If you are looking to do more than just play games, we have an opportunity for you.

What are some goals that Arcadia Esports has for itself as it continues to maneuver through the growing competitive scene of collegiate esports?

Belloff: First and foremost, one of our main goals is to be recognized as one of the premier esport programs for collegiate athletes in the country. When we recruit students, we want them to come to Arcadia because they have heard of what we are doing here and want to be part of something great.

Questions and comments have been edited for clarity.