Updated Feb 1, 2022 - News

Esports expands to Philadelphia colleges and beyond

Illustration of an 8-bit graduation cap against a background with clouds.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It's a good time for gamers in the Philly region.

State of play: Several local colleges — including Temple, Drexel, St. Joseph's and the University of Pennsylvania — joined the National Association of Collegiate Esports Starleague last fall.

  • The league was formed by Philly's Nerd Street Gamers and CSL Esports in July, and hosts multiple skill levels.

And Philly teams are drawing fanfare and investment in physical spaces.

  • Drexel became the No. 1 collegiate team last month playing "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive."
  • Saint Joseph's launched an esports lab in 2020 to house its team, as well as an esports classroom and recreational space.
  • Nerd Street also offers teams access to in-person training facilities and competition space.

The big picture: Interest in esports is soaring across the country after many embraced the industry following professional sports cancellations during the pandemic.

  • It's expected that we'll see more than 29 million monthly esports viewers in 2022.
  • Colleges across the U.S., meanwhile, have been vigorously launching esports teams, with over 100 programs.

The intrigue: Esports is expanding beyond college campuses in the Philly region.

  • Nerd Street opened its first esports campus, The Block, in November.
  • The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department created an esports room at the Christy Rec Center last September.

What they're saying: "What we're seeing now is the cresting of the wave, and that was fueled by technology, opportunity, and the COVID-19 pandemic," said Daniel Funk, who chairs Temple's Department of Sport and Recreation Management.

  • Temple is working on creating a concentration and a certification program for esports.

Jeffrey Levine, who leads the undergraduate esports business program at Drexel, said the exploding interest has led colleges to host esports to entice potential students.

  • But, like football and basketball, colleges are also pursuing esports "to generate good publicity and a source of pride."

Nerd Street CEO John Fazio said over 500 schools have signed up for NACE Starleague across the country.

  • "In five years from now, the current collegiate scene is going to look like the pro scene," he said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Jeffrey Levine leads Drexel University's undergraduate esports business program.


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