Coach Straudt talks next steps for UCO Esports

A UCO esports coach is looking to raise awareness of the existence of the co-op facility and the esports program to better serve students interested in finding employment within the industry.

“I think that most of the university is not adequately exploiting the program and the facility. And I’m going to be very deliberate with my terminology here,” said Ben Straudt, one of the coaches that oversees the co-op facility, “So when I say exploit, I mean exploiting the same way that one exploits minerals from a well or a mine or, you know, a quarry. So essentially, like they built this resource, but it’s not being fully utilized.”

Straudt said the school could benefit from advertising the esports program and the co-op to the public as a resource that can be used.

“And I think that that is the next step, right? Like when the academic side of the school is like, ‘Hey, can we use the space for X, Y and Z? Can we use this space for that?’” Straudt said. “Because then, the different parts of the school will be able to say, ‘Hey, come to the co-op — we’re doing blah, blah, blah club night or, you know, something right?’ I think those will help a lot in terms of raising awareness.”

UCO’s  Co-op Gaming Arena is more than just a venue for people to rent out as a space to play video games. Straudt also hosts weekly and monthly gaming tournaments to bring people to the facility.

“Those events have been very successful, and we’ve run, like, 20 or 22. And what’s really cool is that they’re actually run by the student club,” Straudt said. “I have two student leaders for Smash specifically, and those two essentially run those tournaments. And it’s been a really enriching experience for them, because not only do they get to play the game, but they’re also getting better as performance players. 

“They’re also getting a lot of valuable industry experience running events, being organizers handling money, resolving issues, calling sets,” he said. “I think that’s a really enriching experience that is not offered everywhere.”

The Co-op Gaming Arena is also used as an educational space to recruit future UCO esports students and to teach what skills can be obtained through the esports program or the Esports Media minor degree.

Edmond Public Schools and the YMCA are already taking advantage of the commercial partnership with the university, including an organization called GearUp.

Straudt asks that the UCO gaming community is patient with the university while the growing esports program continues to rebuild momentum — momentum that was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic beginning around the same time as the grand opening of the co-op.

“There’s so much more that the school can do to utilize this space before I think it becomes appropriate to answer the question of is this program getting enough support because like, it’s brand new, right, the school just operates slowly,” Straudt said. “We usually like to talk about stuff after the school is finally done with the red tape, and afterward, we’re ready to present it and it can make for these long periods where it seems like nothing is getting done or things are moving slowly. And that is frustrating. I think, for everybody involved. I think it’s OK to acknowledge that it’s frustrating.”

Straudt has been a part of the UCO gaming community since its beginnings, seeing every iteration as the program has grown from student organizations and clubs to a fully built gaming arena.

Straudt continues his work building relationships to further UCO esports into a competitive and educational space preparing youth for a future career in the esports industry.

“I like that the school built this space, but the awareness of the facility and awareness of the program, the media minor and what it does, those things are all relatively low, especially compared to a lot of the other stuff that the campus has,” he said. “That seems like a logical next step to me, raising awareness for those programs and exploiting them.”

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