Bradley University was ahead of the eSports curve when its game-design program began in 2010. It was ranked 12th by the Princeton Review in March 2017.

The program gives students a hands-on approach by making board and video games over four years to build a portfolio.

Bradley students begin the program by making a board game as freshmen, to help develop the fundamentals of game design.

“We give them that experience so they can figure out if they want to continue pursuing it,” interim coordinator Ethan Ham said.

As students progress through the program, their senior-year capstone project is to create a virtual game. The 2017 class created Starcats, which placed top-five among 400 submissions at the E3 College Game Competition.

Starcats is a round-based game where the first player to 15 points wins. But it encourages players to work together because there can be multiple winners, according to Quentin Young, one of the project leads. (For more information on the game, visit starcatsgame.com.)

As one of the leaders of the project, Young is trying to commercialize the game and has started his own company, Symptomatic Productions, which he hopes to use to build more games after Starcats is produced.

“From my own experience, a lot of Bradley grads are unable to move to where game development is really happening — Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles and Montreal — so they take jobs that aren’t what they went to school for, because it's easier for them to stay local instead of picking their lives up and moving elsewhere,” Young said. “Symptomatic was originally founded because I wanted my team of 17 to be able to take the game that they had poured their hearts into to market.”

Young’s Symptomatic Productions is the first of its kind in the area. While the Champaign-Urbana area boasts a handful of companies, Peoria does have companies that use game technology.

“It’s interesting that Peoria doesn’t have any game companies right now,” Ham said. “But there are a number of companies that use game technology, and our students tend to intern there and some get jobs there afterwards.”

Symptomatic Productions will move on to producing other games created by fellow Bradley graduates and classmates of Young: Gage Melton, Ryan Hughes and Brie Rodgers.

Additionally, current Bradley seniors Zach Abbott, Arwen Boyer and Josh Estill saw their board-game project come to life — Dark Is The Night went to market this past fall.

Ham believes a lot of students are interested in the game-design program because of their interest in playing games, whether board or video. He is beginning to dive more into eSports and thinks Bradley, which has a club team, has the resources to dive deeper into it.

“The Slane College (of Communications and Fine Arts) has a sports communication program, so it seems natural, given that we have a video-game program and a sports communication program, that we look into the eSports space,” he said. “But I’m actually trying to find some of our students who are already involved (in eSports) and pick their brain.”

Aaron Ferguson can be reached at 686-3207 or aferguson@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sports_Aaron.