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UW-Eau Claire esports scholarships reward gamers

Photo caption: First-year student Christopher Brockert, left, received a $2,000 esports scholarship for the 2024-25 academic year. Nate Garvey, right, advisor for the university’s Esports Club, was at Kimberly High School for Brockert’s signing day.

Some incoming freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are being rewarded for their competitive video gaming skills with esports scholarships.

For the second straight year, UW-Eau Claire is offering five, one-time $2,000 scholarships to first-year students for the 2024-25 academic year.

Billy Felz, UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor for enrollment management, says colleges across the country are turning to esports to increase enrollment. UW-Eau Claire’s Esports Club has grown to about 500 people in less than five years with competitive and casual gamers playing in the expanded lab in Room 112A of Hilltop Center.

“It is hugely popular at the high school level, and it’s something that a significant number of prospective students are looking to continue in their college experiences,” Felz says. “We’ve enhanced our esports program with dedicated coaching and recruitment scholarships which allows us to keep up with our competitors across the state. It’s great to know that our reputation is growing when it comes to competitive and casual opportunities for our students through esports.”

The scholarships offered through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation are an opportunity for the university to “differentiate itself from other colleges in the area who also offer competitive esports,” says Nate Garvey, advisor for the university’s Esports Club.

“We like to give the scholarships out to students we believe will bring value to the program,” Garvey says. “Not just the best players, but good leaders and those that want to take on roles to continue to move the program forward. That could be as a student coach or as a program administrator — or someone who wants to take on vocational roles within the program.”

Garvey says that both the scholarship recipients and their parents were excited about the scholarships.

“They were surprised to know that esports scholarships were available, and we believe that it helps show those parents and other students that esports are taken seriously and that there is a value to allowing students to participate in these activities,” Garvey says. 

Scholarship recipient Hayden Boeckmann of Forest Lake, Minnesota, northeast of St. Paul, says he chose to attend UW-Eau Claire because of its “chill environment, the opportunities it has and its distance from home.” Boeckmann was impressed with the organization and management of the university’s esports program, and was happy to receive the $2,000 scholarship.

“I had never thought I would get a scholarship for esports since it’s not seen by many as a big enough thing to consider a scholarship for, but I think it’s a really cool way to get people interested in esports and the program,” says Boeckmann, who will major in computer science and hopes to compete in Valorant or Counter-Strike 2 esports competitions.

Lindsay Brockert, mother of scholarship winner Christopher Brockert from Kimberly High School, says esports in college is a “remarkable way to make friends, stay engaged and compete for school pride.” Brockert says her son was accepted to many colleges, but UW-Eau Claire’s esports program was an important factor in his decision to become a Blugold.

 “I know for Christopher, this esports scholarship and the opportunity to find his tribe was the turning point when he knew he wanted to come to UWEC,” Brockert says. “Of course, he's extremely excited for the opportunity to study neuroscience and psychology with the nation's leaders at UWEC and Mayo Clinic, but being young and enjoying his downtime as a student is important to him too.”