*This article appeared in June/July ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.
On April 6, 2017, Brescia University signed the first five players for its new eSports team. “eSports” – short for electronic sports – is a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by collegiate or professional gamers. We sat down with Jerry Forbes, Sports Information Director at Brescia and coach of the new team, to get the inside story on how a small Catholic college united with the world of competitive gaming to form a match made in video game heaven.
Owensboro Living: Why eSports? How does eSports enter your frame of reference?
Jerry Forbes: Well, it’s such a growing community, and with the popularity that online gaming has received, it’s changing with the times. You’ve got a lot kids playing athletics, but you’ve got other kids at home on the computer playing video games. Ultimately, the mission of the university is to give every kid an opportunity to get into school and further their education and further their lives.
OL: Where did the idea come from?
JF: The whole concept for Brescia to have an eSports team actually came from our Dean, Josh Clary. The University of Pikeville started their eSports program about a year and a half ago, and it just boomed. I think they have 35 kids on their team, playing a number of different games. Dean Clary saw that and he thought, “Hey, if they can do it, why can’t we?” So he was kind of the driving force of it all.
OL: How did you get involved?
JF: Once I heard that we were going to have a team and they were going to have a coach, I immediately jumped on it. I’ve been playing video games for 35 years. Once I started playing on PC, I got online and started meeting people from around the world and got drawn into the competitive side of it.
OL: What do you think are the benefits of competitive gaming?
JF: You know, it’s a team-based event. A lot of people say, “Well, they’re not athletes.” But, if you look at athletics from top to bottom, one of the most important things you have to be good at is hand-eye coordination. This is the epitome of hand-eye coordination. If you don’t have reaction time, you can’t do it.
OL: Did you get any pushback as you were tossing this idea around?
JF: From the administrative side of it, they’ve been very supportive, especially once the Dean presented to the Board and showed them how big this was becoming.
Sometimes, when a potential student goes home and tells mom and dad, “Hey, I could go to Brescia and get money to play video games,” they’re skeptical. They’ve always told their kids, “Quit playing video games and go study.” Now these kids can say, “Well mom, I’m working on my scholarship money!” So, there was a little bit of skepticism there, but if the university is giving scholarship money, then mom and dad usually come around.
OL: You mentioned the scholarships, are these $2,000 scholarships, full rides, what’s the nature of them?
JF: At Brescia, we have partial athletic grants. Right now, for eSports it’s $2,000 a kid. That’s our base starting point. Right now I’m just trying to build the program, get it off the ground and make it successful. Ideally, as it grows, that scholarship money will get a little bigger.
Brescia puts their money largely into academics. If you have really high academics, you can get a really good academic scholarship. As a coach, I’m looking for a kid with high academics that will get a good academic package, and then I can add a bit of this athletic scholarship money to put together a great package for them.
OL: How do you recruit for a team like this?
JF: Once I was hired as a coach, one of the first things I did was set up meetings in all the local high schools, and anybody who was interested in it, we wanted to talk to them. We just started it by word of mouth.
As far as outside of the community, the biggest way I’ve been able to get them interested is by actually playing a game. I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and I have a vast network of potential recruits and people who know me online.
OL: How do you find out who the really good players are?
JF: I’ve got a massive list of potential recruits. Kids are really excited about it. The hard part is weeding through some of that to get to who you’re really looking for. Everybody can play basketball, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to play college basketball.
Most of the competitive games have a ranking system. That gives you a little bit of a standard of their talent. And then, like I said, you get to know them by playing online with them.
OL: You have a really cool job!
JF: You know, I’m a really blessed individual. I’m really lucky I found someone who’s willing to pay me to play video games all day. It’s like, “Wait a minute, I gotta do some real work somehow.” Seriously though, it’s great to work here, it really is.
OL: How do you practice as a team?
JF: Right now we don’t have the arena built yet.
OL: You’re going to build an arena?
JF: Yes, we’re going to have an arena on campus. It’s basically a large room with a bunch of PC’s and monitors and a big screen. We’re going to have our PC’s specially built, we’re hoping to make them top of the line. We’re also going to run fiber internet into the arena, so we’ll have gig-up, gig-down internet service.
Once everything’s set up, come August, it will be just like any athletic team. We’ll practice for two hours a night, we’ll get in there, we’ll run different strategies, and then we’ll find a team online and we’ll scrimmage them. We’ll have a schedule within the conference of different schools that we play once or twice a week. It’s just like a regular athletic team.
OL: Are there any other benefits of competitive gaming?
JF: The big thing is that it brings the structure of any other athletic team. You have teammates you have to answer to. You have a coach who’s making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Athletics promotes leadership, time management, working well with others, things that are going to prepare you for success in the real world.
eSports gives them a good path to get that structure that they really need.
From the Brescia University Website: Brescia University will be offering scholarships to talented League of Legends players, with additional games added as the program develops. Students representing Brescia University for eSports will compete against NCAA Division 1 schools at the varsity level in a variety of competitive matches.
Recruitment for Brescia’s eSports program is currently taking place and students interested should contact Admissions at [email protected] or 1-877-BRESCIA.