Season Zero of our Collegiate Fortnite League has been exciting and successful entirely because of the players and their coaches. These people signed up to a platform they’d probably never heard of, showed up in the preseason, and keep showing up every week. We appreciate their dedication and their talent, so we wanted to get to know some of our players and coaches a little bit better.
We’ll be rolling out interviews on different coaches across the PlayVS Collegiate Fortnite League over the course of the season. Next up: Stephen Ritterbush from the University of Arkansas.
So, Stephen, how did you get into gaming?
I got into gaming when I was very, very young. My mother played Dungeons and Dragons on our dining room table and I really, really wanted to participate. Of course because I was a little rug rat, they wouldn't let me. So I stole the minis to play by myself. I ended up breaking one of her simple little pewter miniatures. After getting read the riot act, I started looking at ways to mend the situation by making new miniatures for her. These were very literally Play-Doh Half Elves. [laughs] Not exactly your standard entry into the space of gaming, but for that reason and because other people I cared about were in gaming, I got into gaming.
When did you get into online gaming?
Well, the first modem I got was one of those that sounds like you're killing a robot every time you connect to the internet. And the first real online game, the first time I really got into competitive gaming, was a game called, Tribes. Which, if you ever played it back then you know it was basically trying to predict the future while on rocket skis. You had guns that had a firing delay of maybe two seconds and the projectiles then moved at a slow rate. I can tell you the accuracy was not great.
At what point did you take this love for gaming and turn it into a career or something you could do for more than just fun?
I believe the want or need to help others and facilitate play was there from the start, but it took flight when I was in my first year of college. In 2003, I started my first student organization on the basis of using games to help people. The organization was called Southeastern Louisiana University Gamers or SLUG. As president, I helped us get a grant approved to buy games, board games, multi-lingual board games, so that we could bring the international community into the gaming community. So we would play games like Settlers of Catan in German and English at the same time. I also got into student government because I really cared about trying to lead people and helping people. I did about four terms as a student president.
What did you do after graduating undergrad?
I came to Fayetteville, Arkansas to enter into their MBA program. As an entrepreneurship student, I ended up working with a couple of startups in various technology areas. Got my masters, said, okay, well now I have an MBA what might that work well with? So I went back and got a second Master's in Information Systems. That way I could actually put the numbers together to make things real. And I've been consulting since, working with companies and startups that don't know how to get the right data out there. A lot of them in the gaming industry.
I'm also working full time for the University of Arkansas, working with students and student information. But most relevant to this conversation, since the government recognized esports programs, I've been the advisor and co-founder for our own esports program here at University of Arkansas.
What is it about those clubs and organizations that keeps you coming back?
For me in my life, it is the mentorship. Mentorship has to be the most rewarding thing that I could choose to do with my life. Helping build people up and watching them grow is something that you cannot replace with any other experience. It's not something you can compare really to anything else. When you're dealing with people who are already adults and are seeking to develop themselves. It really is a unique experience.
Does the University of Arkansas recognize gaming as a varsity sport?
No, but that is something we’ve been working towards since our inception and plan to continue doing so. The major stumbling block is that our institution is quite large and very much focused on the strengths that it already possesses. So getting to that place is a bit of a climb up a hill, but we’re making that climb step-by-step.
What are the next steps on this journey?
We had an architect firm come in to look at our student union to conduct a survey determining what the one thing students were the most passionate about adding to our institution. The answer? A dedicated esports arena.
With that in mind we became engaged and are actively pushing to develop an esports space within our student union and we got very close to the final approval, which is currently pending. They are building a space that could be used for e-sports, but there are a couple of steps left on the way. If we can get this set up, it will mean that we have a larger area of about 5,000 square feet, in the heart of this campus and the highest traffic zone on our campus for students day to day, specifically for the purposes of gaming and eSports.
How has the coronavirus situation impacted you?
I am at heart, a researcher. I want to understand the way the world works and why we do things the way we do so I can build something better. So with that in mind, I’ve been researching COVID-19 starting in January and putting information together to help local as well as the students in my club. I've also been compiling a list of all of the gaming companies stepping up to address COVID-19 either through monetary donations to organizations helping deal with it or by donating games so that people will stay at home and avoid spreading the disease. It is my personal belief, that this is a make or break moment and the companies that are stepping up right now deserve to be recognized and remembered.
Is there anybody you would like to shout-out that helped you achieve your goals through the club or otherwise?
Absolutely, I have a partner-in-crime here at the University of Arkansas. He has been working with me since about 2017 and has been absolutely amazing. His name is Travis Lynch. He is my co-advisor and a fellow coach for the esports program. I can definitively say we would not be doing as well as we are today without him there by my side. So I am deeply appreciative to him and everything he does to help esports grow at the University of Arkansas.
We appreciate you taking the time, Stephen. Keep an eye on this space for more conversations with the people who make our Collegiate Fortnite League special.