ATHENS, W.Va. — Since his freshman year of high school Jake Neerland has been playing eSports for fun and competitively.
The 23-year old Davenport, Iowa native is now getting the chance to lead the new varsity eSports program at Concord University.
The institution made the hiring announcement on Tuesday as Concord has already been working on an arena for the team inside the Nick Rahall Technology Center.
Neerland said the university’s solidified plans attracted him to the position.
“It was obvious they were willing to invest in the program right off the bat,” Neerland told MetroNews. “There was nothing like ‘we have to see if it fits in the budget’ or ‘if we can pull this off.’ It was ‘we’ve already got this set up and we are waiting for the right people.'”
Neerland’s previous position was at an advertising agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He said he had been living in Minnesota for about six months and was planning on moving back home to Iowa until Concord called.
He told MetroNews that he found the position through Concord’s social media pages.
“Concord got a hold of me and said they wanted me to come fly to West Virginia and talk to their people,” Neerland said. “I jumped on that as soon as I could.
“I wasn’t really looking too far out of my comfort zone until they contacted me.”
Concord has registered three eSports teams with the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) including League of Legends, Overwatch, and Call of Duty.
The Iowa State University graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations degree and a minor in Communication has also coached multiple teams, and coordinated with major eSports sponsors, including Blizzard and Twitch, to host a gaming tournament for his previous employer.
Neerland said he has a move-in date at Concord scheduled for April 26 with a start date on the job of May 13, but wants to begin coaching his team as soon as possible.
“As soon as we can field rosters I want to start competing,” he said. “I am a firm believer in a trial by fire, you don’t get a feel for it until you as competitors are on the hot seat.
“There’s a big difference between winning in scrimmages and winning online. Those massively change our people play. As soon as we can field rosters, I plan on competing.”
Neerland is beginning his plans for recruitment via social media and reviewing online applications. He said that on Tuesday, he was already receiving calls and emails about players wanting to join the team.
League of Legends is a 5-player game according to Neerland, but he said he would like to recruit a larger roster and establish depth. Recruits may submit game film such as stick and ball sports.
Neerland said in a perfect world, he would have a main roster and a sub roster, like varsity and junior varsity.
“I am open to essentially as many people as we can get,” Neerland said. “A part of university sports is people graduate. Whether you are a freshman coming into the program or a senior, there will always be a need for more and more people. Also, I like having a group environment.
“One of the things that I learned a lot at the advertising agency I was at is how important collaboration is. That’s a big part of what I am looking for in this program, is as much collaboration as we can bring.”
He added scholarships for eSports was “being discussed” and he is “hopeful” that may come to fruition in the future.
Neerland said NACE, the governing body for collegiate eSports in the United States, will have some competitions ready for the program once it officially gets launched and said there will be year-round opportunities.
From admittedly never hearing of Concord University before just months ago to taking over the first varsity eSports program at a public institution in West Virginia, Neerland said he is ready for the move, professionally and personally.
“Iowa does not have a hill let alone a mountain,” he said.
“That’s one thing I am really excited. I am really into outdoors and camping so on a personal level, I am really excited about those opportunities.”
Concord will be one of only 63 other institutions in the country with varsity eSports. The funding for the program and the arena came from private donations.