Texas library utilizes $50,000 federal grant to launch esports program

Rounding up the latest news on esports and higher education

Students who love video games and are searching for a place to compete in esports may find that next new arena in a surprising place: public libraries.

Libraries have long provided go-to spaces for higher-ed students who want to embrace traditional learning off campus — reading, researching and writing. But as technology develops, libraries smartly are transforming their once-quiet spaces to become, well, more buzzworthy.

A few are even happily inviting in, and investing in, a new wave of potential card members: gaming students.

In Pottsboro, TX, thanks to a $50,000 federal grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the public library there, along with nearby Austin College and Pottsboro High School, announced it is launching its own scholastic esports program.

“It takes something that people love, which is what libraries are all about, independent learning, and then letting them explore it,” Pottsboro library director Dianne Connery told the Herald-Democrat (Sherman, TX), after the grant was awarded.

The goal of the grant is to connect learning and play, according to IMLS, as well as helping to build digital literacy and critical-thinking skills. Gamers also will get the chance to learn strategies, compete in Rocket League and Overwatch and learn the technology used in competitions. And the potentially biggest win-win: Austin College students will help to mentor high school students.

IMLS’ program, dubbed “Accelerating Promising Practices for Small Libraries”, also means a serious upgrade to the library’s infrastructure, including a significant internet boost as well as new gaming computers and headsets.

“It’s actually quite phenomenal to have so much money put in towards our town, and towards the kids alone because that’s our future here in Pottsboro,” local resident Amber Duncan told TV station KXII. “It’s not just for kids; it’s for adults too.”

Parents and others got to see that competitive arena first-hand during a recent tournament at the library, which plans to devote Saturday afternoons to esports.

Seismic shift happening in college sports?

California college athletes now can profit from their identity. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law the Fair Play to Pay Act, which makes it illegal for colleges to prevent student-athletes from making money off of “their name, image, and likeness.” Those athletes also can hire agents and hire representatives to help them in commercial endeavors.

The move sets the stage for a prolonged battle between backers of the Act and the NCAA, which regulates 1,268 college athletic programs and does not allow athletes to profit this way. One of the many concerns raised by the NCAA is that “a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.”

The new law doesn’t directly affect esports athletes; esports is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, so athletes can earn money in different ways. However, the NCAA might be a player in the future, if it relents on its stance on amateur athletics. The Act also opens the door for other student-athletes in California to now barter with publishers to have their avatars appear in video games.


CCSU LEADS WAY IN CT: When it comes to college sports in Connecticut, UConn is king. But in the emerging esports universe, the school making noise is Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT, which recently opened the state’s first dedicated esports center (1,500 square feet with 12 video game consoles). To renovate and add technology to a spot in Memorial Hall, the school spent $300,000 but got big-time sponsors in Dell, Microsoft and UK-based Response Gaming Ltd. It already has one big fan: former UConn men’s basketball star and CCSU coach Donyell Marshall. “For something like this to be on campus, to have kids be able to play games and make new friends, this is awesome,” Marshall, a former NBA star, told WFSB-TV.

PHILLY’S STAKE IN ESPORTS GROWING: Philadelphia is fast becoming a launching pad for all things new in esports. Nerd Street Gamers will help open the first esports gaming center in a pro sports arena, the Wells Fargo Center, home to the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 9. The center not only will host playing visitors during game days, but it also will be open during dark days at the arena. Philadelphia also has broken ground on what will be one of the most dazzling venues in the country, the $50 million, 3,500-seat Fusion Arena. It is slated to open in 2021, will be home to an Overwatch League pro team and host 120 events each year.

TEEN LAUNCHES FREE HIGH SCHOOL ESPORTS LEAGUE: Jordan Zietz, a 17-year-old entrepreneur from Pine Crest High School in Boca Raton, FL, says he has started his own free-to-play high school sports league, backed by a $7 million investment from game controller maker Power A. Zietz says his All-Star eSports League, which features popular titles such as Fortnite and Overwatch, has registered 5,000 teams. His league plans to dish out millions in scholarships and prizes to participants. Zietz joins a crowded space, with software developer PlayVS and High School Esports League (HSEL) already having a foothold in scholastic esports leagues. But he told venturebeat.com he feels his model works well. “We may not be the most-funded esports league, and that was never a problem in the first place. Because we’re a lot more efficient with our money.”

ALL ABOARD: Several colleges have made the big leap recently and are forging esports programs, including Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Robb Bolton, the director of campus recreation, talked about the groundswell of support on campus this year, saying, “It’s by far the most [interest in] anything we’ve ever put out there. I think the most before [eSports] for any trip or sport or fitness event was probably in the 20s, so to have 100 students reply was pretty significant.” The others to launch include ECAC member The State University of New York at Canton and four National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) members: Michigan Tech (Houghton, MI), Northcentral Technology College (WI), the University of Central Missouri (Warrensburg, MO) and Nichols College (Dudley, MA).

Information from wire services and news releases were used in this report. Chris Burt is UB’s esports editor and develops program content for LRP’s esports conferences. 

Interested in esports? Keep up with LRP’s Academic Esports Conference.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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