Jan 20, 2022 - Business

Austin schools meet the growing popularity of collegiate eSports

A photo of a eSports gaming room with desktop computers and monitors in the background.

Concordia University Texas' eSports center. Photo courtesy of Concordia

Concordia University Texas may be small, but its eSports program would have you believe otherwise.

The big picture: The Austin school, which has a student population of roughly 2,500, is one of just a handful of Texas colleges and universities with a varsity eSports team.

  • Concordia eSports launched in 2019 and is home to a 13-station arena equipped with Alienware and Logitech gear, a dedicated production system for streaming and a lounge area for viewers.
  • Roughly 43 students are on the varsity team, more than double the number who participated in Concordia's eSports program in 2019.

It's a sign of the growing popularity of online gaming, especially at colleges, according to Marc Valdoria, eSports coordinator at Concordia.

Why it matters: Esports, or competitive video gaming, is rapidly expanding and especially fashionable among younger gamers, and the pandemic helped the industry skyrocket in popularity and revenue.

Yes, but: Bigger schools like the University of Texas have been slow to respond to the increasing popularity of eSports despite calls from students for more institutional support.

  • The SEC does not have a conference for eSports, while smaller conferences "have already embraced eSports," Valdoria said.
  • The University of Texas has a club team — Longhorn Gaming — but does not offer a varsity team like Concordia.
    • Austin Espinoza, former president of Longhorn Gaming, told Texas Engineer Magazine that he was advising varsity eSports discussions at UT.

Still, both Austin and Dallas were named among the top U.S. cities for gamers in a recent report by Commercial Cafe.

The Concordia eSports team trains like a run-of-the-mill varsity college team, according to Valdoria. They hold practices, review film, maintain GPA requirements, host team meals and travel to tournaments together.

  • The eSports industry "really mimics everything traditional sports does," Valdoria said. "We want to be able to really normalize eSports as one of the varsity sports offerings."

The bottom line: Competitive video gaming isn’t going anywhere. Expect to see a growing number of university teams as the industry continues to boom.

"It’s only a matter of time before the big leagues start catching up," Valdoria told Axios.

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