Subscribe for 17¢ / day

In his role as the director of athletics at St. Ambrose, Ray Shovlain has hired a number of coaches over the years.

The veteran administrator couldn’t rely on a quick phone call to old friends for recommendations for his latest hire, announcing Tuesday that Joshua Sides has been named as the first coach of the university’s new esports program.

“It was a different process, but we had significant interest in the position from all over the country,’’ Shovlain said. “We had people with a great deal of playing experience at the professional level or at the semi-pro level. We had people who have worked in the industry and we had people who have assisted with esports programs at other institutions.’’

Shovlain wasn’t surprised by the varying levels of experience in prospective coaches.

“It’s such a cutting-edge sport and there are a number of people who are interested in leading programs,’’ he said.

Shovlain has established relationships with individuals in the esports arena as St. Ambrose researched beginning a program and he said they proved invaluable in offering advice as the 29th varsity program overseen by the school’s athletics department begins.

“In some ways, we were looking for a coach with characteristics of the coaches of a number of our programs, the ability to recruit, the ability to put together and successfully operate a program, those types of things,’’ Shovlain said.

“We also wanted a coach who has the technical knowledge to develop and grow a program and lead our team in a competitive area that is growing rapidly across the country.’’

St. Ambrose announced last month that it is joining the growing number of intercollegiate esports programs across the country, offering talent-based scholarships to student-athletes who will compete against other collegiate gamers.

The school has fielded “hundreds’’ of inquiries from prospective student-athletes in the sport, which Shovlain said matches well with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics academic programs offered by the school.

The Fighting Bees will initially compete in two games, League of Legends and Overwatch, and their new coach has an extensive background in both.

Sides has been an active member in the League of Legends community since its first competitive season in 2010 and has a history of studying the competitive side of the game, believing games can be won or lost in the pre-game phase.

He has a background in studying win rate percentages, team compositions and other available metrics.

He has also competed in Overwatch since it was closed Beta testing and is well versed in the meta game and strategy.

“I can’t wait to bring everything I have learned to help build the Fighting Bees esports team into one of the best,’’ said Sides, a 2013 graduate in business administration from North Carolina-Greensboro who has worked in recent years in operations management.

Shovlain believes St. Ambrose has found the right coach for its start-up program.

“Joshua is well schooled in the games we are going to start, Overwatch and League of Legends, and he has experience in other games as well,’’ Shovlain said. “He’s been interested in esports for the majority of his life.’’

Sides will begin his new position on Monday, putting the work of assembling a St. Ambrose team which will begin competing at the varsity level this fall.