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New Coach Hopes to Make Connections Through Esports

Monday, March 11, 2024

Esports RenderingEsports require many connections. The internet connection needs to be lightning-quick and consistent. The wires connecting the equipment need to fit perfectly. The microprocessors within the equipment need to connect the millions of instructions and calculations happening every second during a game.

But for Robert Cruz, the most important connections to be made in esports are among teammates.  

“It’s not just a chance to compete, but build friendships that are lifelong,” he said. “As more experiences are online, this is a chance to increase those interpersonal interactions.”

The College recently hired Cruz as its esports coordinator. Having never had an esports team at STLCC, Cruz will be responsible for building the program from the ground up. Before coming to STLCC, Cruz worked with youth in Hillsborough County, Fla., as the esports specialist and recreation leader, where he developed the esports program along with managing youth sports leagues.

Prior to that, Cruz was on the esports team at the University of Minnesota when he was a graduate student, specifically competing in “Overwatch.” While there, he connected with teammates who remain some of his closest friends many years later. He hopes to bring that same level of camaraderie to the team he’ll be forming at STLCC.

“When I was coaching high school weightlifting, a lot of kids I saw would just go home afterward, instead of doing something with fellow teammates,” Cruz said. “I’m going to try and instill the principle that this isn’t just a team to compete, but it is a chance to build friendships and relationships with individuals that you’re going to take with you for your life.”

While Cruz’s vision for the upcoming esports team and program goes beyond the walls of the space being built, the walls themselves are also an important aspect—and are currently being formed. The STLCC esports team will be housed at STLCC-South County, with the dedicated space being built out this spring. The space will include several large televisions, esports team logos, new seating and much more. 

“The new space at South County will be very unique,” Cruz said. “It’s going to go beyond the esports team,” suggesting the space could be used for an esports club, as well as space to have watch-events or other gatherings. 

“Robert brings both energy and experience to the role,” said Rob Lee, interim dean and director at STLCC-South County. “He is a perfect fit for launching esports at South County and making it a districtwide program.”

“Reaching out to the high schools will be the biggest hurdle,” Cruz said. “But we’re going to make it something amazing—something everyone’s going to want to be a part of.

“Esports is an alternative for kids that aren’t involved in other athletics sports. For kids who aren’t athletic or don’t enjoy that, they have another option for them to get those team experiences and build that community and be involved.” 

STLCC Athletic Director Sharon Marquardt said Cruz was the right person for the job for a number or reasons. “He has all the experience you could want as a former esports player, but he also has a great desire for working with students to make them better people and players,” Marquardt said. “Our team will definitely enjoy his energy and passion for gaming.”

Cruz said his goals for the first year are all process-oriented goals: “If someone’s never been on a team before, teach them how to be on a team. Help players overcome struggles and strive to be better every single day. I want to instill a growth mindset.” 

If he can make those connections, expect exciting things from STLCC esports.

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