Boise State puts players on virtual game field with Downtown arena

The Blue Turf is world-famous. But if Dr. Chris Haskell has his way, a virtual turf will also be a signature of the school.

Haskell, who goes by Doc, runs the school’s esports program, which is part of the school’s education technology department.

And nestled inside a BSU facility in the Bodo area sits a slick, high-tech arena. In it, esports teams from around the region compete in several video games, and everything is streamed live on the Internet – complete with ESPN-style broadcasters.

“I’m a career learning junkie,” Haskell said as he showed off the facility earlier this fall. “When we started on this, my wife had to nudge me at 2am… ‘I don’t know what you are working on, but go to sleep.'”

Those sleepless nights led to an esports program that has the nation’s most wins. It also has that arena, complete with room for eight players, a broadcast platform, TV-style control room, lots of flat screens, fancy lights and more.

“It has to be a place you want to come hang out,” he said. “We have to get kids to support what their classmates are doing. We want this to be the coolest thing ever.”

Big time in Boise

It creates a big-time atmosphere for a sport that’s fast-growing in participation.

It all runs like any other sport.

The Boise State esports broadcast control room. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

“Kids show up an hour or so before. The start warming up – and might hold a scrimmage. The broadcast talent is here 30 minutes before. They go over the rundown and script and flow of the show.”

The online broadcasters and team members go over how the game might go, and make sure the game plan and broadcast plan tie together.

ESPN profiled the school’s esports program in 2018. It highlighted the team and its coed nature. “They are just trying to put esports on the map for collegiate sports,” ESPNW’s Katie Barnes said in a 2018 report.

That map now includes each traditional Mountain West Conference school. The esports team often plays the same matchup the football teams play the next day.

For instance, Boise State and the New Mexico Lobos played at Albertsons Stadium on November 16th. On November 15th, the esports teams faced off in Overwatch.

While the games are fun to play – Haskell said the educational mission is real.

“The type of stuff we work on here is related to almost every industry that people could go into,” he said. “Messaging, storytelling, logistics, communications…” he said listing a few.

And as esports grows, Haskell said he hopes Boise State’s program does too. He hopes to expand into additional space along Capitol Blvd. in Bodo.

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