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COMMERCE STREET: 'It's going nowhere but up': Esports hits the mainstream in San Antonio

St. Mary's University in San Antonio is adding Esports to its Athletic Department.

SAN ANTONIO — The multi-billion dollar industry of Esports is booming...on the airwaves, in arenas, and on at least one San Antonio college campus.

St. Mary's University is diving into the exploding world of Esports and challenging the traditional notion of sports and athletics. The university is organizing an Esports team under the Athletic Department and hopes to have a team of student athletes very soon.

We spoke to Rob Coleman, St. Mary's Director of Athletics, about this groundbreaking program.

Q: This is something fairly new. There was really no playbook among universities or colleges really on how to add Esports, right?

Rob: There were some schools who had done it. Rogers State is one of the schools we looked at. Some have clubs - not just varsity, but there were some other schools out there like Ohio State. There was a little bit of blue print, but we’re novices, right? We get the business sense of this because it's good for retention on our campus. We know the world of Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s a few billion dollar industry and it's only going up. And our students are doing this in their dorm room. We wanted to create a competition and have a place to compete against one another and then obviously in the recruitment part - not just the retention part. So we knew the business and obviously it was something very new to us in San Antonio for us to jump into it, but we also know the future and it was important for us to do this now.

Q. For people who didn't necessarily grow up around Esports, and it being such a dominant force and growing industry, what do I not understand about it that attracts student to it?

Rob: It's not basketball. It's not baseball, but it brings all of those same qualities. It's teamwork. It's sportsmanship. It's staying together. We are all competing and at the end of the day, we are shaking hands and we are walking away. It's going back to practice and how hard we work to become great at this. So, it has a lot of the same quality and I think folks who are out there - who are doing interviewing - want individuals who work as a team. So this has a lot of avenues, and we are also looking at adding some academic classes for Esports down the line and that would go through our Engineering Department.

Q: Esports is already a very competitive and very fast-growing sport, outside of the collegiate area, just on a national scale. What attracted you as a university to say this is something we need to jump on and get ready for?

Rob: We felt we needed to get in this now - to find the niche. That’s what we were talking about in August. What are some things that can be niches for us. So Esports is part of that. It's finding that niche. The emails that Chad and I have received... We had a couple of students from the Plano area that were super excited that we were adding the program and it might tip the scale for them to come to St. Mary’s. But, it's about student life, and something we are really excited to bring to campus.

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We also spoke with graduating senior Mack Moncado, who is essentially serving as a volunteer coach for the growing St. Mary's program. He talked about how getting involved in Esports can be life-changing for some students.

Q: Would you say Esports might provide an opportunity for people who might not have otherwise gotten engaged with a team or group or organization on campus? Does this bring something unique that a lot of students hadn’t had before?

Mack: So when I first came to St. Mary’s, I was kind of in my dorm a lot. I didn’t join any campus activities. I didn’t join a campus frat. I didn’t go out to any games. In classes, I didn’t make very many friends when I first came. So having this opportunity was very important for people like me - who don’t really have that normal outlet for people who don’t join a frat or sorority or are part of a team. You have the commons where every one hangs out and studies together, but you have introverted people like me. So having that team-based community to bring people in is very important.

Q: I know you mentioned you would be interested in a job in Esports. When we talk about that, what would it look to be an Esports coach? What might your roles be there?

Mack: An Esports coach obviously needs to know all the games being offered, team-based shooters like Overwatch and others. Knowing what works and what doesn’t work in the game is very important. So Overwatch has 32 characters right now, and some of the characters are not in the meta, per se. So knowing that kind of information is very important for the coach.

Q: Something that is very unique about Esports versus other sports where you basically have one set of rules. You are not talking about different games or a different version or different iterations. How do you get ready for something like that, with an Esports team? Is it just adapting each year with an Esports team?

Mack: So a lot of the games don’t stay stagnant. A lot of them have updates and have different things going on for them. So on top of knowing the different games, you have to know the different state of the games.

Q: So you are graduating this year, at a time when a lot of this is changing within the collegiate world, and also even high schoolers have Esports - the industry is just exploding and booming right now. So what do you think opportunities will be like for kids and teens and preteens who are just starting to play?

Mack: There are so many opportunities. My brother and sister, they are 10 and 12. They just started getting into YouTube as well. They do YouTube on their Minecraft videos - so even on a non-Esports kind of game, being able to play these games and make content out of it. It's very watched on YouTube and it's also watched on Twitch a lot as well. Even if you are not a competitor, there’s definitely a market for you to be content creating. But in the Esports realm, there are definitely things that you can work towards becoming. Casting is very important in Esports. Talking about the game and what is going on, you can see the opportunities beyond college.

Q: When I think athletic department, I might think initially think about football or basketball, what about Esports makes it just as much of a sport as anything else?

Mack: I hear that argument and I like to compare it to baseball. So in baseball, you have a team and they have their own rules and they are responsible for those games. Esports has those same rules. You have to be able to communicate with your team. You have be able to make a run or score a point on Overwatch... So being able to work with your team well and communicate, and also be respectful as well. One of the things we want to drive at St. Mary’s is to delete the toxicity that is associating with gamers. So a lot of the times, you think of the gamer being angry or yelling a lot. We don’t want to facilitate that - we want to keep it professional. You hold a professional athlete to that standard. You don’t want them saying bad words or acting unprofessional outside of what they do. So we want to see the same things for Esports- that professionalism - and it will legitimize Esports as well.

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