College is a place where athletes compete.
Some dazzle packed stadiums and arenas brimming with screaming crowds. A fortunate few become legends, their names and feats emblazoned in the minds of generations of fans.
But many others with that same sportsmanship drive never set foot on a gridiron, a court or a rink. Theirs is a virtual field.
This is the world of esports and Jonathan Eaton helps create it.
Eaton joins MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences as the esports content and production coordinator, working closely with Esports Director Chris Bilski. Eaton will focus on game production and streaming. He’ll manage the university’s new Alienware MSU Esports Lounge, which was officially dedicated at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences on January 17 as well as an additional esports space opening this spring in Hubbard Hall.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Eaton said. “Lots to learn, lots to grow and develop here. I’m excited for the future, building what’s going to be one of the best (collegiate esports) programs in the country.”
His career began in 2016 as a student at Ferris State University. Back then, Eaton formed an esports club to play the game “Overwatch” with just eight members. Today there are more than 500.
As the club attracted players, Eaton attracted the university’s attention.
“I helped write the curriculum for the academic program,” he said. “I developed the competitive program from the ground up. Then, I wrote my job description as a student. They hired me three weeks later.”
Eaton grew up playing traditional sports, with his parents, coaches and teammates nearby as mentors. He believes esports caters to a different subset of students who may be disconnected to other aspects of college life.
“There’s a lot of students that we found at Ferris (State University) that weren’t actively involved in anything else but did play games in their dorms,” he explained. “I had one student who didn’t necessarily care about the school. I got him on a team, I got him a jersey with his name on it, and he was on the broadcasts. Two years later, when he graduated, he was like ‘my time in esports here made me proud to be a part of the university.’ He’s been one of our most active alumni.”
Eaton’s arrival coinciding with the Alienware MSU Esports Lounge signals the university’s strong investment in the future of esports. Eaton says the opportunity for growth was a driving force behind his decision to become a Spartan.
“I had grown Ferris to the point which you can sustain it,” he said. “Here (MSU) there’s an additional growth space that I’m really interested in. The broadcast production side is a big part for me; making sure that when people tune in to watch esports that the Michigan State stream is the number one spot they want to go for a good, high-quality broadcast and good high-quality gameplay.”
Eaton leaves behind a solid legacy. In November, Ferris State University nearly clinched top honors in the “Institution of The Year” category of the Scholars Collegiate Gaming Awards. Eaton’s former alma mater was edged out by Boise State University.
“Ferris State University was the number two institution in the world for collegiate esports last year. I’m hoping that we can get the number one spot with MSU in the next few years.”
You’re officially on notice, Boise State Broncos. The Spartans are coming.
By Kevin Lavery