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Technology & Entrepreneurship

St. Mary's University Adds Varsity Esports Team Next Fall

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While you can’t yet get a bachelor’s degree in Playstation, St. Mary’s University will let you play for the school team. On Tuesday, the San Antonio West Side University announced esports would become its 12th intercollegiate sport. The university is the first in San Antonio to announce the addition.

Esports has seen mammoth growth in recent years propelled by live-streaming, game platforms like Twitch and high profile proponents like Michael Jordon and Philadelphia Eagles running back Jay Ajayi.

St. Mary’s and at least 170 other schools want to harness that interest by adding the digital sport. 

"We've already seen that groundswell of interest there [in esports],” said Chad Peters, associate athletics director for external affairs. “It's been very important to us to engage and involve our students throughout the process to ensure we are hitting those needs."

The school will roll out a team of 20-25 players, targeting games like League of Legends, Overwatch and others. There are six other schools in Texas competing including Austin’s St. Edwards, which launched fall 2019, and could make for a natural rival, said Peters. 

“But what’s exciting about this is you’re really not bound to geographical rivalries and boundaries as you are with traditional sports,” he said.

Reaction from St. Mary’s students to the news has been positive on popular gamer forums like Discord. Questions are arising about what the facilities will look like, how many spectators the competition space will allow and the quality of the Alienware gaming systems.

University officials expect to complete the renovation of a part of their University Center this spring, and university officials expressed a hope that it would prove a popular engagement tool.

Mackenzie Moncada is a senior in exercise and sports science at St. Mary's and he says the new esports team could be a deciding factor in where he goes for his graduate work.

"I am mostly looking to stay at St. Mary's because of this program. I've always been passionate about gaming and it's kind of cool that I can now game while also do something for my university," he said.

Esports as a recruitment tool is not new said Michael Brooks, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, a three year-old organization. 

They started with six and now have 211 institutions either competing or developing a program right now.  

“We’re trying to race and keep up with the institutions we are gaining,” said Brooks. 

The big driver of that growth? Small, private universities. Brooks said while schools as big as Ohio State University have programs, many are what would be considered NCAA Division III  schools. These are schools that, like all universities, want to use sports to tie students to the community. 

Esports provides a low-cost option for recruitment and retention.

“When you look at a traditional sport, one of the biggest line items is travel,” said Brooks. And he added with esports, you can basically eliminate that line. 

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.