University of Texas at Dallas: UTD Esports Ups Its A-Game with New Coach, Possible Play Areas

Drew Boehm remembers the day he heard The University of Texas at Dallas was launching an esports program in fall 2018.

It was the moment that pushed him to pursue a career in collegiate esports.

“During college, I was really into gaming,” said Boehm, who joined the UT Dallas esports program as head coach in February. “It has always been an important part of my life, and I really enjoyed being involved in a gaming club in college. When I saw UT Dallas announce, ‘Esports is here,’ within the hour, I was Googling collegiate esports and trying to figure out how I could get involved. I knew I wanted to work in esports in a university setting.”

UT Dallas’ championship program boasts a pair of national titles in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and recently was ranked in the Top 10 varsity esports programs of 2022 by Best Colleges.

Drew Boehm
Boehm brings experience from head coaching positions at the University of Saint Mary and UT Arlington, where he launched the varsity esports program.

He also has an impressive resume as a gamer. He achieved top 1% ranks in multiple titles such as League of Legends, StarCraft II and Hearthstone, and held a grandmaster rank of No. 27 in North America for Heroes of the Storm during the game’s peak in 2016-2017.

“When the head coaching position at UT Dallas opened, I had already witnessed the success,” he said. “I had been on campus and seen the teams compete. I had a lot of respect for UT Dallas. One of the things that impressed me the most is the amount of University support the program has.”

He is joined by Christopher “Bani” Benell, who started at UT Dallas last fall as an MBA student and new head coach of the Overwatch team. He brings professional Overwatch experience as a former coach with the Washington Justice and a former support player with the Houston Outlaws.

Community of Support
Boehm, who graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, has a passion not only for competitive gaming, but also for building a community around the sport.

He shares that passion with a growing number of UT Dallas students who support the program behind the scenes in both paid and volunteer positions, including assistant coaches, managers, analysts and teams of content creators; broadcasters and producers; event planners; social media managers; and graphic designers.

UT Dallas Comets Esports by The Numbers. Gamers: 4 varsity teams, 31 student-athletes and 10-20 hours of practice per student and per week. Allies: 40-50 support staff and 40-50 content creators. 2 national championships. 2021-2022 Highlights: Collegiate Rocket League, team finsihed No. 3 in the West. Overwatch Collegiate Homecoming, team finished No. 6 in the US.

There’s so much interest that the program is expanding from the Sector 7 Energy Esports Gaming Arena, a facility in the Student Union where the esports teams train and play. The nearby Pegasus room is being converted into a content-creation studio for esports and other athletics programs.

Professional esports streams include live announcers and in-person interviews, like other sports.

“A lot of students want to get involved in professional esports, and our students are so talented and have so many ideas,” Boehm said. “Having a quality space like this will give our students an opportunity to work with professional equipment and gain hands-on experience, plus they’ll be able to show potential employers their work.”

Improving the Esports Experience
Engaging Comets outside of the program also is important, Boehm said.

The Division of Student Affairs is exploring the possibility of creating a new public gaming space in the Student Union open to all students.

“We want to bring home those big titles, but we also want to engage the average student at UT Dallas,” Boehm said. “The more interaction between our players and the general student population, the better.”

Dr. Gene Fitch Jr., vice president for student affairs, said the idea started when he heard about student interest in accessing the varsity space.

“We want to bring home those big titles, but we also want to engage the average student at UT Dallas. The more interaction between our players and the general student population, the better.”

Drew Boehm, head coach of the UT Dallas esports program

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, monitors and gaming consoles were added to The Pub, a space Fitch said was a prime spot for socializing on campus 15 years ago. The proposed esports lounge would include dining, gaming and study space.

“We want The Pub to be a place where students want to come again, whether that’s to game or to eat,” he said. “We want the students to be excited about the space.”

Student affairs recently hosted open forums where students could provide input on the proposed renovation and expansion of The Pub. The space could potentially include up to 60 gaming stations with PCs and consoles, as well as an area to host competitive esports tournaments with spectator space and a video board. Currently, fans can stream matches live on Twitch.

Forums, Feedback on Gaming Areas
Do you have ideas or feedback about a public gaming space on campus?

Check out student affairs social media, digital signage on campus and the Comet Calendar for details on future open forums and an opportunity to participate in an online esports survey. Email Student Union director Dan Goodwin for more information.

“It would be cool to have a location on campus where you could physically go watch the competitions, just like you would a basketball game,” Boehm said. “You could see our students playing in real time and watch the match on the screen behind them. This would be an investment and would help set UT Dallas apart.”

Under the proposed plans, the Student Union also could house an additional content creation space for students outside the esports program who are looking to hone their skills.

Fitch said the goal is to begin renovations by early summer and complete the proposed project by spring 2023.

“It’s about creating a community,” Fitch said. “We have a lot of students out there who are gamers. We want to create an experience that gets them out of their rooms and provides a space where they can enjoy interacting with their friends.”

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