By Mark Cai | May 2023
When someone talks about the future of esports nowadays, they might think of large stadiums in South Korea full of tens of thousands of fans screaming for their favorite team and player. They might think of the millions of dollars of prize money on the table and a chance at fame for a very specific group of gamers. They might think of hundreds of thousands watching esports live-streams virtually, typing away in Twitch chat. Most likely though, they won’t think of the mid-size college in the Waterloo Region of Canada called Conestoga College. But that might be where they should be focusing on for the future of esports.
Situated in what is renowned as Canada’s technology capital, Conestoga has pushed its esports program, known colloquially as Condors Esports, as an emerging force trailblazing a new path to esports and higher education within Waterloo Region. Combining competitive gaming prowess with an emphasis on gaming culture and academic development, the program has achieved remarkable accomplishments and is reshaping the esports landscape in the Waterloo region.
New Conestoga Condors Esports facility in use
One of the big differences that sets Conestoga apart in the region is the fact that the school officially recognizes the Conestoga Condors Esports Program under Collegiate Athletics & Recreation, meaning the program is not simply just another student club. This simple distinction enables the esports program to have more physical and financial resources, such as the dedicated esports hub with over 30 gaming PCs (that is open to the general student population in addition to the esports teams), three varsity teams that offer prize scholarships for competitions, as well as additional support from the school’s administration.
With the help of the Waterloo Region Esports Commission (WREC), Conestoga has been fortunate to have a local advocate working towards meaningful esport efforts in the region. Zack Dodge, Conestoga Esports’ Operations Supervisor, mentions how “the WREC has coordinated esport events specifically for collegiate demographics in Waterloo Region which has been meaningful in building a trusted local community.” Additionally, “Conestoga has and will continue to collaborate on community-focused events to showcase collegiate esport efforts from Conestoga.” The WREC aims to increase investment in local esports programs, secure partnerships & funding, support scholastic esports initiatives, and more. The support from not only the school’s administration, but from the WREC continues to drive Conestoga & other esports programs in Waterloo Region to new heights.
At the heart of the Condors’ esports success lies a culture that embodies accommodation, teamwork, and support. The program has fostered an environment where students from diverse backgrounds and skill levels come together with a shared passion for gaming. Representing various academic programs such as business, computer science, public health, private security, and more, these students form tight-knit teams that thrive on the principle of supporting one another, fueling a collaborative and supportive atmosphere.
The Conestoga Condors VALORANT Esports Roster competing in a match
The Condors’ esports rosters span a variety of titles like League of Legends, Rocket League, and VALORANT. The newly formed VALORANT roster has also recently found success, making an appearance in the Esport Canada Post-Secondary Rankings as only one of two Canadian Colleges to crack the top 10 VALORANT rosters in late March, as well as competing in the National Esports Collegiate Conference (NECC) and College VALORANT League (CVAL). The roster, consisting of Justin “Jman” Langevin, Timmy “Kip” Tram, Isaac “SillyShadow” Jackson, Ekam “Naan” Lally, Cameron “stretch” Drennan, and Coach Will “Rejante” Rejante. Though the VALORANT roster’s season ended in an elimination match during the playoffs of the NECC Valorant Champions Finals for Spring 2023, the team has made great strides both in-game and for the overall esports culture at Conestoga.
Team Captain Justin “Jman” Langevin, who has been competing in FPS games for 8 years mentions “Conestoga is doing it right, they are on track to be one of the top esports programs in the region”. Langevin is a third year in the bachelors of computer science program and truly appreciates how much Conestoga has allowed him to grow as a person and a leader through his role on the VALORANT team.
“The culture around esports at Conestoga is 100% supportive. If you just saw how many people go to the facility everyday, even teachers will pop by to check it out and sometimes will ask for the link to the esports stream” says Langevin. He continues to mention how teachers are often very accommodating to the esports students, with some enabling the esports players to focus on their competitions by providing alternative deadlines for certain assignments, exams, and projects.
Conestoga Condors VALORANT Esports Roster from left to right: Cameron “stretch” Drennan, Timmy “Kip” Tram, Justin “Jman” Langevin, Isaac “SillyShadow” Jackson, Ekam “Naan” Lally
“One of the most important things the esports program has taught me is patience and empathy. All the players are going through school, scrims, and competitions, so really listening and understanding everyone else’s perspective has helped me create a better team environment.” says Langevin. Conestoga also offers work opportunities related to the esport program, such as the team manager role that Langevin held previously in 2022.
Timmy “Kip” Tram, native of the Waterloo Region and in-game leader of the VALORANT roster, had a once in a lifetime experience to represent Canada in the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Final, a tournament for collegiate students with a prize pool of $30K. Tram was the only student from the Waterloo region to participate and mentions how Conestoga enabled him to focus fully on the tournament.
“Luckily I didn’t have to worry about an exam when I was halfway across the world in Brazil”, mentions Tram. Returning to Conestoga, Tram brought back not only prestige & attention to the up and coming esports program, but also a new coach in Will Rejante to the VALORANT roster, further strengthening the building blocks of Condors’ VALORANT roster.
Will Rejante, Head FPS coach of the Conestoga Condors, mentions how more casual gamers and people in general around Conestoga campuses are becoming curious to learn more about esports and gaming due to the acceleration of support for esports at the college’s Waterloo campus. He continues to remark that “Conestoga being in the top 10 for all of Canadian Collegiate VALORANT esports serves as a great opportunity to improve collegiate esports in and beyond the Waterloo Region”.
As the esports industry continues its rapid growth and transformation, Conestoga continues to prepare its esports students both in the server and in the classroom, maintaining a commitment to prepare its students for the future. The newly formed Esports Marketing and Event Management program exemplifies the convergence of esports & academics. From “Introduction to Esports and the Esports Ecosystem” to “Esports Marketing and Brand Activation” to “Audience Development and Analytics”, these courses provide a comprehensive education that blends knowledge gained from competing in esports with applications on the business side of the industry.
Conestoga’s latest Esports Marketing and Event Management graduate certificate program
Contributing to the program’s holistic approach is Zack Dodge. Zack brings an unparalleled passion for esports with his background in gaming, playing a pivotal role in shaping the program’s strategic direction. He played a major role in elevating the esports culture at Conestoga by bringing on non-student coaches & administrative staff for all the major esports teams (such as coach Will Rejante), shifting practice & competition from online to in-person at the esports facility, and the increased exposure via regular streaming of matches. Zack continues to focus on bringing in learnings & infrastructure from traditional sports to implement into esports, while maintaining a “school before esports” mantra for the students.
All in all, Conestoga’s esports program has emerged as a beacon of excellence in Waterloo Region, embodying a progressive and inclusive vision for esports in higher-education. As the industry continues to flourish, Conestoga’s esports program stands poised to be a role model for other colleges and universities in the area and greater Canada as a whole.
Mark Cai is a freelance content creator & writer in the esports, gaming, and creator space. He is the creator of the “This Week In Esports/Gaming” video series on LinkedIn where he recaps weekly business happenings in esports, gaming, and content creators.
Outside of his professional life, Mark still enjoys watching esports and gaming in his free time, along with running and cycling when he can. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn, Twitter, and website.