By Cary Shimek, UM News Service
MISSOULA – All those parents scolding their kids about playing too many video games because “that will never get you anywhere” shouldn’t talk with Jimmy Painter.
The Missoula College student will graduate May 14 from the University of Montana with a degree in information technology. To hear Painter tell it, he never would have found his career path without a healthy dose of video games and becoming a founding member of the Griz Esports team.
“I used esports to help pay for college,” he said. “Most of us on the team receive scholarships through esports. We’ll log onto CyberBear (UM’s online student services portal) and get a couple thousand dollars of scholarships, which really helps out. I have gotten it a couple of times, and it’s just for being on the teams.”
Painter managed to find a winning path for himself at UM – he already has a job lined up after graduation – but it didn’t happen right away.
“I had issues where I struggled finding out what I wanted to do with my life and what degree would suit me best,” he said. “I just had a hard time figuring it out.”
His story started in his hometown of Toledo, Washington, where the dedicated gamer already administered his own Minecraft server by age 14. Over the years he upped his pixel violence with shooters like Counter-Strike and Overwatch, and then he discovered UM while visiting a friend on campus. He quickly fell in love with the area.
A year later he was a computer science student on the central UM campus. He liked programming, but the intense math wasn’t his favorite, so he switched to media arts. In that department he met Michael Cassens, an assistant professor preparing to launch UM’s fledgling Griz Esports program.
“I started going to their orientation events, and I walked onto the Overwatch team,” Painter said. “The following year I took over as team captain, and I’ve done that the past two years.”
For those not in the know, Overwatch is a first-person shooter where two teams of six battle it out, fighting over payloads, key points on a map or who will be the last avatar standing. He generally plays as Reinhardt – an armored dude with a giant hammer – or Cassidy – a cowboy with deadly revolvers. Painter is a platinum-level player, so he’s not one to mess with online.
“I had the pleasure of having Jimmy as both a student and player on our team,” Cassens said. “He has always been hardworking and dedicated to his academics while leading our Overwatch team with incredible grace. He truly embodies our UM Esports ideals by accepting everyone regardless of their background, and he garnered the respect of all his teammates because he uplifts everyone’s strengths through his leadership.”
Painter started working for the UM Information Technology department as a student tech. He enjoyed helping professors and staff members fix their email or reset forgotten passwords. He also started IT work for his esports team, helping manage and maintain the team’s machines in the Gaming Den in the University Center, where team members meet to practice, compete and hang out. In fact, one of his proudest UM accomplishments was spearheading a project that overhauled their powerful gaming computers so that all the software updates automatically in a system that is completely locked down and doesn’t need to run Windows.
“Eventually I had an epiphany that I could do IT as a full-time career,” he said.
But UM didn’t have a dedicated IT major as part of the main campus. For that, he would need to head across the river to the University’s two-year Missoula College. It was a key turning point he wouldn’t regret.
“It’s been a fantastic program,” he said. “They are very good professors who know what they are doing. Vic Valgenti over there teaches like half the classes. The networking classes are amazing. I’ve learned so much.
“The great thing is that I take those classes and get all that information, and then I can immediately take that and apply it to my job and work at UM IT,” Painter said. “And everything I learn at UM IT helps me with my classes.”
In his IT job, he began to relish tackling bigger problems – like taking several days to bring dying university computers back from the brink. “I’ve done like three different hard-drive corruption things in the past couple months,” he said proudly, adding that the department has trained him to become a full-time systems analyst for campus.
In fact, that’s the job he will move into immediately after graduation. And staying at UM means he gets to continue helping with the flourishing Griz Esports program.
“If you want to do stuff with gaming and esports, this is definitely the place to be,” Painter said. “There are so many different opportunities for our students, and you can get scholarships for esports just like a regular student-athlete. And in some of the collegiate tournaments, there are like $90,000 grand prizes that sometimes go to scholarships divided among team members.”
The Griz Esports Rocket League team recently earned a trip to nationals in Virginia at the College of William and Mary. (Rocket League? It’s basically arcade-style team soccer with vehicles and explosions.) The red-hot UM team made it to the final four in the nation but eventually crashed and burned against a tough University of Delaware Blue Hens squad.
Painter said Griz Esports had tripled in size since its inception, with growing diversity and much more female representation than most universities. The team also raises thousands for charitable causes. A recent digital-video livestream earned more than $5,000 for a children’s hospital in Helena in 24 hours.
“We use technology that makes it easy to donate,” he said. “There is a ticker that is constantly updated so we can see how well we’re doing. We’ve been able to help a lot of great causes.”
Painter is excited to level up at Commencement on May 14 and start his next chapter at UM.
“When you get offered a great position in a place you love working at, you might as well take it.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, firstname.lastname@example.org.