RIO GRANDE, Ohio — If Alex Gagucas feels a little like Capt. James T. Kirk heading up the crew of the starship Enterprise, who can blame him?
After all, he’s preparing “to boldly go where no man has gone before”.
Gagucas has been named as the head coach of the University of Rio Grande’s first-year eSports program, which is scheduled to debut with the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Rio athletic director Jeff Lanham made the announcement Thursday afternoon.
“We’re very excited to welcome Alex to the University of Rio Grande athletics family and have him serve as the first head coach in RedStorm varsity eSports history,” Lanham said. “Alex comes to Rio with outstanding experience, both as a collegiate coach and with his Network & Systems background. He’ll provide great leadership in developing our eSports program.”
Gagucas, who is 25 years old and originally from Gallipolis, Ohio, comes to Rio Grande from Aheliotech, an IT company located in Columbus, Ohio, where he’s worked as an Information Technology Specialist and Team Leader since August 2018.
“I’m extremely excited and happy to have this opportunity,” said Gagucas. “I know eSports is fairly new for that part of Ohio. I’m ready to get started.”
A 2016 graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Gagucas also served as both a Prevention Specialist and Information Technology Specialist for Health Recovery Services in Gallipolis and Athens, Ohio.
His previous coaching experience comes from a one-year stint as the manager of MU’s Counter-Strike:Global Offensive team, where his duties included the teaching and training of athletes and the implementation of mental health sessions with players for the purpose of teaching stress management and team synergy.
“I really don’t think finding (student-athletes) will be that big of a challenge,” Gagucas said. “The biggest challenge will be developing a winning formula — everybody has to be on the same page in terms of their approach to the game.”
eSports teams, for the uninitiated, can compete against other schools in a number of different games, including League of Legends and Counter-Strike.
“Those are the two that most players specialize in and the two that I’m focusing on the most to start with,” Gagucas said. “They’re basically 5v5 type of games where you work together to outsmart your opponent. You’ve got different strategies depending on which game you’re playing. eSports is basically like any other sport, only it’s virtualized.”
Other games on the RedStorm’s radar include Fortnite and newcomer Valorant.
Rio Grande’s team will not compete in a conference, per se, but the school will be a member of NACE (National Association of Collegiate eSports).
Gagucas said his initial plan is to field a roster of 13-15 players and then see how things progress for the future.
He added that he’s not opposed to his roster including student-athletes from other Rio Grande teams — as long as there’s no interference with the player’s primary team.
“As long as the program is doing what it’s supposed to do and the way I envision it, we’re going to get bigger,” Gagucas said.
That attitude suits Lanham just fine.
“eSports has amazing growth potential and outstanding competitive, social engagement and educational opportunities for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and the southeast Ohio community,” said Lanham. “We look forward to working with him as we build the program and make Rio Grande a leader in eSports.”
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.