KENOSHA, Wis. — Jordan Ball’s hobby is about to get much more serious. The Carthage sophomore recently learned he will be one of the student-athletes competing in the college’s inaugural esports season.

“Some people might be really, really good at football. Some people are really, really good at video games,” Ball said between rounds of Overwatch, a team-based, first-person shooter video game. “It’s just something that nobody really thought they could grow with.”

During his senior year of high school, Ball competed on Wilmot Union’s first esports team. When Carthage organized an esports task force to explore the benefits of adding competitive gaming as a varsity sport, Ball joined as a student representative. He would later present a summary of the task force’s work to the school’s board of trustees, who decided to move forward with esports as a varsity sport, rather than a student activity.

Athletic director Nate Stewart estimates roughly 30 percent of the Carthage student body competes in Division III sports. Esports is not sanctioned by the NCAA yet, but Stewart believes the program is another recruiting tool for Carthage.

“We’re providing opportunities to our students, but we want to win, too,” Stewart said. “We want to win some of those competitions and be able to take advantage of some of the prize money. That’s kind of how it ended up in athletics.”

Carthage has already begun converting the basement of the Todd Wehr Center, known as WOH’s Place, into a state-of-the-art esports arena. The former tavern will soon be home to 24 new gaming stations, massive screens for competition and recreation, plus a classroom for film study and gaming-focused classes.

Part of the esports task force’s pitch to the board of trustees involved tie-ins with Carthage academic programs. Future Firebirds esports student-athletes will work directly with computer science students pursuing the new game development minor. 

“I am certain most people have experienced more than one software system that seemed to have been designed by engineers for engineers, not customers,” said Perry Kivolowitz, chair of the Carthage computer science department and co-creator of the game development program. “Our esports athletes will play the role of customer for our game development students helping shape the designs and technologies our students build.”

Carthage will enter its first intercollegiate competitions this fall, with plans to build a roster to about 50 student-athletes.

Jordan Ball, a computer science major himself, has high hopes for Carthage’s 28th varsity program, the first to allow women to compete alongside men. He enrolled to pursue a career in computer science, but now, like any other student-athlete, he says he is thrilled for the opportunity to compete while representing his school.

“I wanted some sort of legacy at Carthage,” Ball said. “I definitely think this is going to be it.”