Holy Family University students will have a new athletic option when they return to campus next month, complete with uniforms, practice time and a brand-new facility.
The sport? Video games.
The Philadelphia university with a campus in Bensalem is joining more than 170 collegiate programs as part of the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Over 5,000 college student-athletes compete, including students from various Pennsylvania colleges including Alvernia, Immaculata, Neumann and Messiah universities, and King's College.
Esports is growing on college campuses and in high schools across the country, partly as a way to reach students who might not participate in traditional, physical sports.
"We want to develop leaders," Holy Family Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance Abraham Joseph said. "That is one thing Holy Family is passionate about. We want students who graduated from Holy Family with the holistic viewpoint of the mission, academics, everything else, to be the best version of themselves when they leave our institution.
"So, with this, it is another opportunity to capture another set of student-athletes that we might have never gotten to experience," Joseph said. "But, give them the traditional experience of being a captain and a leader."
Esports in high school:Minecraft in the classroom? For Central Bucks, esports is more than a game
Original conversations about starting an esports program at Holy Family halted once COVID-19 began, but those talks restarted last summer, and the university has created a program for the 2022-23 academic year.
As the program begins this fall, esport student-athletes are expected to be held to the same standards as other athletes on campus. When players are not practicing or competing, expect them to be working out in the gym or studying for school.
Holy Family's athletic department and other campus departments also are putting together the final pieces of an esports facility.
Incoming and returning students can reach their potential when it comes to competitive gaming because of the resources being provided.
“We currently have a gaming club,” Holy Family’s Director of Athletics Tim Hamill said. “We are trying to help provide some legitimacy to that by structuring it a little bit better. Allowing them access to our logo — our branding.”
The school is partnered with Adidas, so the team will wear uniforms. Players will receive additional Holy Family clothing apparel, including beanies and other items.
Inside Holy Family's esports facility
Holy Family’s new esports facility is located on the first floor of the campus center in Philadelphia, and should be completed by August. The team is expected to use this facility for competitions and practices, but open times are going to be available for all other students on campus.
“One big mission we have with this is to be very inclusive,” Joseph said.
Here is what student-athletes should expect when entering the facility.
They can download their game of choice on any of the 20 PC computers. Keyboards and headsets come with each computer. A few PC computers have webcams to stream games.
The athletic department has researched the best equipment to use, including the best computer screen and table size, among other essential details. The program is prepared to make improvements to their equipment as things change.
“Our goal is to be a pioneer and lead this effort forward,” Joseph said. “We want our kids to have the best gear to be successful in this sport.”
Holy Family joined NACE because the organization provides important resources for college programs. Additionally, NACE allows programs to play against high-level and low-level competition, which creates more opportunities for students who want to get involved.
Each player is likely to compete in one specific game. There are single-player options, but esports is team-oriented and requires multiple players per game for the most part.
Some of the games NACE offers is Overwatch, League of Legends and Valorant.
Fans are expected to come out and support the team. The gaming facility is next to the dining hall, so it makes things easier. People can watch outside of the glass walls and cheer their fellow students on as they compete.
“It is going to be a natural segment,” Joseph said. “When our students go to eat, they can sit. They are going to watch their friends and people that they know competing the next room over.”
The streaming platform Twitch is another alternative for students to watch.
“It’s just one click away,” Holy Family's Director of Esports Colin Sibilia said. “I think it’s going to be very accessible for a lot of people to watch and support.”
How to become a Holy Family esports team member
Competitions are scheduled from fall to spring.
The program wants to add experienced and inexperienced players to the roster. There are no roster cuts or try-outs as the program enters its first season because of its goal to be inclusive.
In the fall, the program’s goal is to gauge the interest of students who can commit to a 20-hour week. NACE’s recreational level is better suited for inexperienced players or busy students that can not commit full time.
“We want kids to experience what esports is even if you are brand new and never touched a computer in your life,” Joseph said. “We want to give them the opportunity to have access to the equipment to be able to play. Our idea is to have free open times where we have expert players teach newer players.”
Sibilia will support his players from an academic standpoint and offer resources.
He plans on recruiting Philadelphia and South Jersey during the beginning stages of the program.
“We have already been in talks with some athletic directors and some directors and head coaches, whatever each school has,” Sibilia said. “It’s growing in the high school area. We want to try to connect with these local schools.”
Sibilia signed up for a 2023 recruiting platform that reaches out to high school players. The Central Bucks School District created an esports club last year and Quakertown Community School District has started one as well.
A esports center, Metro ESports, opened in Warminster last year.
Sibilia is looking for recruits who are passionate about esports. He is less worried about their skill level at this point.
Holy Family has long-term goals for esports program
Holy Family created an Esports and Gaming Administration minor to match the interest of their students.
There are various options for esports careers, including broadcasting and coaching. Esports also translates to other career fields such as technology-based and data-driven jobs.
The first year of this program is pivotal for learning what works.
“The student-athletes experience — do they feel included with athletics?” Sibilia said. “Do they feel like they matter? How does organizing the schedule of the gaming space work because classes will be in there at certain times and practices? Open hours, what are those going to look like?”
The final steps before the season is creating the rosters, designing uniforms and finishing up the facility.
Everyone involved is encouraged with the long-term future of the esports program as it takes off.
"It’s something that I am excited to watch grow,” Sibilia said. “I think this is part of helping Holy Family grow to be a more inclusive and exciting university with more bells and whistles and things to offer.”
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Holy Family University creating esports team, major