Next level: Two Blue Devil esports teams head to nationals

Student athletes’ experiences enhanced by game design, esports coaching programs
​Jerry Poling | April 2, 2024

The National Association of Collegiate Esports Varsity Premier playoffs kick off this week, and two University of Wisconsin-Stout Blue Devil teams — Valorant and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — are headed to nationals after winning their conferences.

“Stout’s esports teams continue to compete at the highest level in NACE. Our Valorant team has proven it can compete with the best teams in the nation, and our Smash Ultimate team is young but already seeing success. I am extremely excited to see how they grow over the coming years,” said Coach Aaron Froelich, who has led UW-Stout’s esports program since summer 2023.

UW-Stout’s #17 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team will face #16 Shawnee State University at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2. The winner will play #1 Michigan State University at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 4.

UW-Stout esports team players compete from their new arena in Heritage Hall. The arena includes new computers, monitors and chairs that are standard in competitive gaming.
UW-Stout esports teams compete from their arena in Heritage Hall. / UW-Stout

UW-Stout’s #14 Valorant team will face off against #3 Maryville University at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3. 

Matches will be broadcast live at www.twitch.tv/StoutEsports

UW-Stout has been a Wisconsin leader in esports since 2020, when it became the first university in the Universities of Wisconsin to launch a varsity program.

But the university’s gaming roots go deeper. It’s the only university in the state to offer both art- and computer science-focused degree programs in game design. And in 2023, it expanded its academic strengths in game design and development when it became the first UW school to launch an esports coaching minor

A student experiences a UW-Stout student-created video game using virtual reality. / UW-Stout
UW-Stout's semiannual Stout Game Expo, SGX, is the largest such event of its kind in Wisconsin. / UW-Stout
Andrew Fedie, left, watches the movements of fellow student Danielle Pedersen as she is directed by Kayla Techmeier in UW-Stout’s new motion capture studio in Micheels Hall.
UW-Stout's motion capture lab is an integral part of the game design and development programs. / UW-Stout

UW-Stout also hosts the biannual Stout Game Expo, which features games designed by UW-Stout students. SGX, western Wisconsin's largest game developers' event, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, in the Memorial Student Center Great Hall.

According to sophomore game design student Ethan Hershberger, the confluence of athletic and competition opportunities distinguish UW-Stout. 

Playing on an esports team has enhanced my passion for games and has offered a lot of insight into certain aspects of their creation, which has impacted my study of game design here at Stout,” said Hershberger of Edwardsville, Ill., who captains Stout’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team. 

UW-Stout’s esports teams compete from their home arena in Heritage Hall.

Members of UW-Stout’s Valorant team.
Members of UW-Stout’s Valorant team. / UW-Stout

Valorant team returns with flawless conference season

After getting knocked out of the LCQ in the fall 2023 season, the Valorant team made it a goal to succeed this spring. The Blue Devils qualified for playoffs with a 7-0 regular season in NACE Varsity Premier. 

“It's been a great season for us so far, and I think a big part of it was a new focus on our team culture. With playoffs ahead of us in all three of our leagues, I'm excited to face them as a team and how we match up against some of the national powerhouse programs,” said Valorant Coach Tobey Riedmann. 

Riedmann, of Menomonie, is a senior in business administration, earning a minor in esports coaching. He is in his second year of coaching Valorant. He previously coached UW-Stout’s Overwatch team.

Riedmann’s Valorant team is composed of Noah Filtz, of Oregon, Wis.; Em Humphrey, of Waunakee; JJ Hanson, of Lindstrom, Minn.; Nathan Lenz, of St. Paul; and Hoang Dang, of Altoona.

UW-Stout competes against Concordia University during a recent match.
UW-Stout competes against Concordia University during a recent match. / UW-Stout

Season conference recap

  • 2-0 win vs Lindenwood University
  • 2-0 win vs Wayne State University
  • 2-0 win vs Old Dominion University
  • Forfeit win vs University of Kentucky
  • 2-1 win vs St. Ambrose University
  • 2-0 win vs University of Cincinnati
  • 2-0 win vs University of Windsor

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team fights into playoffs with fresh faces

Between the fall 2023 and spring seasons, the Blue Devils Smash Ultimate team graduated their coach and a player on the roster. Now rebuilding with a full freshman and sophomore roster, the Blue Devils were looking to improve on their previous 3-4 record. They finished 6-1 with a four-game win streak to secure first place in conference play and a spot in the NACE playoffs.

“We accomplished our goal of making playoffs this year, but we aren't done yet. Not by a long shot,” said Smash Ultimate Coach Zach Janot.
 

UW-Stout competes against Concordia University during a recent match.
UW-Stout competes against Concordia University during a recent match. / UW-Stout

In addition to Hershberger, Janot’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate squad includes Sam Mead, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.; Ryan Heer, of Pewaukee; Ethan Skains, of Waseca, Minn.; Derek Normann, of Minneapolis; and Ben Willem, of Waunakee.

Season conference recap

  • 2-1 win vs Grand Valley State University
  • Forfeit win vs DePaul University
  • 1-2 Loss vs Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • 2-0 win vs Siena Heights University
  • 2-0 win vs Waukesha County Technical College
  • 2-1 win vs University of Michigan – Flint
  • Forfeit win vs Creighton University

NACE is the largest member association of college and university sponsored esports programs that promotes the education and development of students through intercollegiate esports.

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