The Madison College WolfPack may not have been able to cheer on its traditional fall sports teams, but the athletic department had plenty of reasons to celebrate Dec. 16 when Kaden Crockett won a championship title. The six-foot freshman from Cottage Grove defeated his opponent 4-0 to bring home the fall 2020 semester national title in Super Smash Brothers.
In late August, Madison College announced it was adding Esports to its athletic department. The WolfPack would be part of the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports. Helping to provide leadership to the group as the Esports coordinator is Bill Kegler, a 2004 Waterloo High School graduate.
Kegler is the Goodman Sports Complex and Enterprise manager, a position he took nearly three years ago. His job entails coordinating facility schedules for practices, games and tournaments.
About four years ago, he noticed the growing interest in Esports and started to follow it. Approximately one year ago, Madison College hosted a high school Esports tournament.
“I knew it would get some kids on our campus and it could be a really good way for us to learn about the environment needed to have Esports,” Kegler, a Sun Prairie resident, said. “And we hosted the tournament and everyone had a really great time.”
The college decided it would offer a varsity-level Esports team and initially planned to start up in the fall 2021 semester. However, when the traditional sports schedule started “looking a little bleak,” Kegler said Athletic Director Steve Hauser suggested bumping up the start of the Esports team.
The Waterloo native worked with Esports Head Coach Joe Hanson, who works in the school’s IT department, to get the program rolled out in the fall. There was a large interest in the team and ultimately 13 athletes joined the inaugural WolfPack Esports team that competed in Super Smash Brothers, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Madden NFL 21.
Kegler doesn’t have much experience in video games, but he does have several years of coaching experience. He served as the Madison College head men’s basketball coach from 2016-2018 and spent the four prior seasons as the assistant head coach for the team.
“I enjoy watching (Esports) when it’s streaming on Twitch,” he said. “I enjoy the competitiveness and from the strategic side. They communicate on how they can make maneuvers and other things that traditional sports include. … There’s a lot of crossover.”
Among the crossovers are having athletes play to their strengths and exploiting an opponents weaknesses.
“There’s very little of the Xs and Os but you have the academic components and things like dealing with performance anxiety,” Kegler said.
During his years as a basketball coach, the Waterloo native recalls how many athletes would be anxious at the free throw line, when all eyes were on them. This can feel very similar when an Esports athlete is streaming live, with the feeling that “everyone is staring and watching them.”
More than anything, he sees the mental aspects of sports present whether the athlete is dribbling a ball down the court or moving the control pad and buttons.
“There’s a lot of repetition every time they play no matter what sport it is,” Kegler said.
For Kegler, serving as the team coordinator goes beyond making sure all the proper forms are filled out; he also ensures all the athletes are eligible to play.
“It’s just like all of the other Madison College athletic teams, they have to meet certain criteria to compete,” he said.
The team coordinator is excited to see what happens in the next semester for the WolfPack ESports team, especially after having two of its three Super Smash Brothers athletes win 4-0 in the quarterfinals, face off in the semifinals with a score of 4-3, and ultimately have one team member win the championship match.
And, Kegler is on needles and pins waiting to see Esports continue to increase in popularity and participation.
As for the future of the WolfPack team, he knows the athletes are looking forward to when they can gather together to practice and compete.
“They’ve all been out on their own during this, the only time they were together was to pick up their shirts,” he said. “They want to get together, it’s such a community-minded diverse group.”