Esports team to become 18th varsity sport

Athletics begins recruitment, search for head coach

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

As the fall 2019 semester came to a close, Point Park University announced that it will offer a varsity esports team beginning the fall 2020 semester, according to the press release from Dec. 9.


“The addition of esports provides another opportunity for the university to offer a quality experience for students who are interested in this,” Kevin Taylor, Associate AD and SID, said. “Esports is a hugely growing industry, and it will be another step toward Point Park furthering its esports involvement.”


The addition of the esports team totals 18 varsity sports team operating in the Pioneer Athletics Department.


“The addition of esports will continue to grow our total number of student-athletes as well as add another coach to our staff,” Director of Athletics John Ashaolu said. “Esports adds another element to our department. Adding esports will provide more opportunities for prospective students, and the university’s investment in the addition of esports illustrates the university’s reputation of being innovative.”


Taylor mirrors Ashaolu’s position on the additional growing sport.


“Any time that you add a program to your athletic department, there is always a learning process, especially when it is a developing sport such as esports, or prior to that, competitive cheer and dance,” Taylor said. “A lot of schools are learning the ropes of what goes into these types of new sports programs. It is great to jump in and provide these opportunities.”


The discussion of adding an esports team has been alive for a few years now, according to Keith Paylo, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs.


“We try to be intuitive and innovative, ahead of the game rather than behind, and we believe this is the right time to enter this esports world,” Paylo said.


After a National Association of International Educators (NAFSA) conference, Paylo relayed information about the emerging trends of esports to Point Park’s executive board, and believed it was something to keep their eyes on.


Now, the emerging trend is becoming a reality on campus.


The university is in the midst of deciding games to play and hiring a head coach. Paylo says he hopes a head coach decision will be made by the end of January.


The press release stated that recruitment for athletes would begin immediately. Recruitment and scholarship determination would follow the same process as with the other sports teams.


Esports student-athletes can be found like other athletes through high school clubs, rankings of top esports athletes, listings, national organizations and even students inquiring about esports programs, according to Paylo.


Paylo hopes for 15 to 20 student-athletes for the inaugural esports team. The team will practice and compete on campus.


“We are going to take the multipurpose room on the second floor of the Student Center, and we are going to turn that into our esports arena,” Paylo said.


Converting the space into the arena will go “full force” once the semester ends, according to Paylo, and it will be ready before the fall semester. The arena will be equipped with the proper technology, equipment and amenities needed.


With momentum on the rise in the esports community, Paylo also mentioned discussions of National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) involvement in the future.


“We are talking with our own athletic conference…that within the next year or so, we believe a large number of schools in our conference will form esports teams, so not only can we compete on a national level through the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), but we are also in the very early stages of discussing within our own athletics conference putting together a schedule to make sure that we play each one of our conference schools in esports, also,” Paylo said.


The esports team will be governed by The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). NACE includes more than 170 institutions nationwide and more than 5,000 student-athletes receive greater than $16 million in scholarship.


Point Park will be provided an intercollegiate competition schedule and path to national postseason competition with the help of NACE.


This announcement comes after the university hosted the Steel City Showdown in May. This event was the largest esports tournament in Pittsburgh history. Point Park partnered with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cleveland Cavaliers and Able Gamers to make the event possible.


Hundreds of gamers competed in the Pittsburgh Playhouse for prizes in three separate competitions. The Steel City Showdown will return to Point Park for its second annual competition this May, according to Paylo.


Point Park’s Rowland School of Business offers a class called the Business of Esports within the Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management (SAEM) program.


With a curriculum and athletic department supporting the $1.5 billion industry, Point Park continues to be on the forefront of its growing popularity.


“It is an opportunity to get Point Park University and Point Park athletics on the radar of a new audience,” Taylor said. “Those folks may not have heard of our university and what it has to offer before this opportunity to be recruited and become involved.”


“Because of the fact that Point Park University is going to be one of the few institutions fielding a varsity esports team, I am hoping that we can achieve success rather quickly so that we can be known and seen as the model program regionally,” Ashaolu said.


Overall, the addition of a varsity esports team benefits all involved, according to Paylo.


“The bottom line is it gives us the ability to offer yet another sport that is interesting to students and attracting them here to the university, so it’s a win win for everybody,” Paylo said.