A first for the Big Ten school, Michigan State University enters the esports arena with official varsity teams for three major game titles and new state-of-the-art competition spaces.
Rocket League. Valorant. Super Smash Bros.
These are the game titles esports fans can expect to see Michigan State University’s varsity team compete against other institutions in national tournaments.
Led by Esports Director Christopher Bilski and head coaches Grayson Harding (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate), James Jordan (Rocket League) and William Perez (Valorant), the MSU teams are poised to make a splash in the collegiate arena.
New for the 2023-24 academic year, each institution in the Big Ten Conference has joined the Big Esports Conference (BEC) for weekly collegiate esports matches. The Spartans began their BEC season Oct. 10 with matches against Iowa and will end the conference season Feb. 29 against Penn State.
Michigan State is also a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the largest member association of college and university sponsored esports programs comprised of more than 240 member schools.
“Our program is not just about competition,” Bilski said. “We are building a holistic approach that also emphasizes community and careers for students. We hope to use esports as a way students can use their four years at MSU to prepare for the next 40 years of life.”
The College of Communication Arts and Sciences welcomed Bilski as the inaugural director of esports in 2022. Prior to joining MSU, Bilski worked with the esports programs at Grand Valley State University, Muskingum University and Aquinas College. He now serves on the board of directors for NACE and board of advisors for the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) in addition to leading MSU’s esports program.
“This is a foundation year. We’re looking to create a culture and set the tone for years to come.”
— Esports Director Christopher Bilski
James Jordan has been coaching Rocket League for the past six years, including his time in the Rocket League Championship Series and as head coach of esports at St. Clair Community College. For this initial season, Jordan has his sights on being a contender in the BEC, developing a training program and focusing on player growth.
“We will be constantly learning, growing and succeeding,” James said. “It’s going to be an exciting ride, and we hope you come support us and watch the development towards becoming a championship team.”
Competing under the Spartan banner in Rocket League are seniors William Lewis of Grand Rapids and Matthew Munson of Rochester Hills; juniors Brenden Heughens of Rochester Hills and Bennett Marr of Okemos; first-years Andrew Bultman of Rockford, Nicholas Dowdican of Shelby Township, Justin Frick of Novi and Owen Rodziczak of Macomb.
“I am fully invested in making sure that other schools know that MSU is a contender, and that players see MSU as a desirable destination.”
— Rocket League Head Coach James Jordan
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Grayson Harding echoes that his focus for this fall season is laying a foundation — developing a robust practice schedule and a championship team culture. “Michigan State’s Smash team is already positioned to be the best team in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. We are building a dynasty,” Harding said.
Harding has also worked in both the collegiate and professional esports circuits, previously serving as operations manager at 26Rising, assistant esports coach at Aquinas College, and managing scholastic competition with TechChase Esports.
The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (SSBU) team welcomed senior Daniel Weatherspoon of Ypsilanti and junior Collin Landers of Tinley Park, IL; sophomores Julian Alonso of Detroit, Rodrigo Arce of Lima, Peru; Callum Gross of Oxford, Adam Ismaili-Alaoui of Kalamazoo and Dyson Mingo of Bloomfield Hills; first-years Rowan Clark of Itasca, IL; Andrew Farrell of Holland and Ryan Marcus of Centennial, CO.
“We have a very young, very talented starting varsity roster that is already making large waves within collegiate esports. It’s incredibly exciting not just for this season, but the following seasons.”
— SSBU Head Coach Grayson Harding
Will Perez has experience competing at a semi-pro level as well as coaching esports teams, having been head coach for Supernova, Area of Effect, and Tempest Gaming. Perez said his goal is to have strong showings in the playoffs of the CVAL and BEC leagues. “We want to form strong habits in our first year of varsity Valorant and develop the talent that is already present at the university,” he said.
Rounding out that talented Valorant roster are senior Eric Luo of Auburn Hills; juniors John Harris of Ann Arbor and Calder Munro of Farmington Hills; sophomores Benjamin Forbes of Grand Rapids, Sanghoon Kim of Rockville, MD; and John Masterman of Glenwood, MD; and first-year Ammar Al Saadi of Madison Heights.
“I’m most excited to see player growth, as I am confident that our varsity team has players that could contend in both collegiate and co-ed [leagues]. I’m also hopeful that we will make a name for ourselves and become a university that is well-respected in the Valorant space.”
— Valorant Head Coach Will Perez
State-of-the-Art Competition Spaces
Michigan State is set to debut two dedicated esports spaces in early 2024, providing MSU’s vibrant esports community and varsity teams with competition centers worthy of championships. Both locations will be open for all students, featuring console and PC gaming spaces as well as broadcast areas.