Investing in the Future: St. John’s Builds Community through Expanding World of eSports

Student playing esports on computers

St. John’s students play video games on state-of-the-art computers in the Technology Commons.

April 11, 2019

In the last 10 years, the phenomenon of eSports has taken hold of the video gaming world, evolving into a billion dollar industry featuring professionally organized competitions with large financial prizes often at stake. Professional eSports gamers have legions of fans who watch tournaments on streaming online platforms such as Twitch, and many have landed lucrative brand endorsements.

St. John’s University positions itself to meet the growing demand posed by the massive growth of eSports and its emphasis on emerging technology. The University continues to create opportunities for students and faculty to research this expanding field, while offering students a chance to participate in BIG EAST intercollegiate eSports competitions. 

“There is large-scale interest on the part of students to watch and play eSports, video games, console games, mobile app games, and more,” stressed David P. Hedlund, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Sport Management. According to Dr. Hedlund, at this time last year, St. John’s had 12 students playing eSports through an offshoot of an existing club. Presently, more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students are members of the University’s eSports group on Discord, an interactive app designed for video gaming communities.

Dr. Hedlund noted that the University’s administration recognizes the potential and the popularity of eSports, and has mobilized resources to meet the growing demand. One goal of the Technology Commons on the Queens, NY, campus is to teach students about eSports. There are currently 12 state-of-the-art gaming computers in the space for student gamers to practice and play against each other and in eSports competitions. According to Dr. Hedlund, those computers are in almost constant use.

This year, an undergraduate course focused on the management and administration of eSports was unveiled by the Division of Sport Management. eSports Administration and Management examines the history, development, management, and operation of eSports players, teams, and competitions in contemporary society.

Dr. Hedlund said that St. John’s tries to find as many academic connection points as possible. There are plans to offer classes where students learn how to write the code for the games, as well as how to advance in the field as broadcasters, managers, and marketers for eSports.

In addition, there are opportunities for students and faculty to work together and conduct research on eSports and make St. John’s a center for eSports knowledge and research, Dr. Hedlund observed. “Research is ongoing about why people play eSports, comparisons of traditional sports and eSports, and the health and wellness of eSports players.” He added that research on the comparisons between traditional sports and eSports is being undertaken by graduate students in the Division of Sport Management.

Dr. Hedlund noted that with the advent of the Technology Commons—a centralized campus space—students who would normally play these games alone online have opportunities to play with others, and it becomes a bonding experience. 

First-year student Zoe Wong is the manager of team that competes in the BIG EAST Conference. When she heard a St. John’s League of Legends team was being formed, she jumped at the chance to participate. “I realized I was not the top player, but I still wanted to be a part of it.” She offered her services as team manager—and got the job.

As manager, Zoe makes sure the team has the space and resources they need to practice. She schedules scrimmages; acts as a liaison between students, administrators, and faculty; and also communicates with the BIG EAST about tournament play.

Being able to play together in the Commons rather than scattered across campus has enabled the team to bond, Zoe observed. “I work so closely with the team, and many great friendships have formed.” Managing the team has given Zoe a great deal of confidence, and she observed that the experience has taught her lessons about time management, organization, and professionalism. 

A gamer since he was a child, senior Anthony Narvaez works in the Technology Commons. An Information Technology major, Anthony was thrilled to discover the Commons after spending a semester abroad. Last semester, he was chosen to manage the University’s Overwatch team, another multiplayer online game.

As Anthony watched a steady stream of students arriving for their reserved time at gaming computers in the Tech Commons, he remarked that one of its goals was to allow St. John’s students a respite from their studies, and an opportunity to make new friends.

Anthony has absorbed as much knowledge as he possibly can while working in the Commons. “I am always asking, always learning,” he stressed. “I want to know how these machines work. The job I am doing right now—being able to work on these machines—is one of the best opportunities that I have ever been given.”

“eSports allows anyone—from any walk of life—a chance to compete,” Anthony said. “St. John’s has made this massive commitment to eSports with the latest technology. The administration has seen the future.”

When asked where he sees himself five years from now, Anthony hopes to work for a software development company like Blizzard Entertainment. “Now that I have been exposed to the inner workings of the machines here, my understanding of how the technology works has increased a hundredfold.”

“In my opinion, eSports is just another sport,” Zoe asserted, adding the only difference is that it is through an online platform. “If you look at a day in the life of a League of Legends player, it is going to be similar to that of another athlete. You practice a certain amount per day. You have people making sure you are healthy, and that physically and mentally you are performing at your best.”

Zoe wants people to understand what eSports is really all about. “It is an industry like any other. Everything you see on an athletic team or in a business is present in eSports. It is really important to start educating people.”

She added, “There is not only a stereotype about people who play, but about who can play,” noting that it is generally assumed that gaming and eSports are predominantly male activities. “eSports is inclusive. It is for everyone. I can play the same games as anyone else—and I do.”