Christopher Turner built a scholastic esports powerhouse in Louisiana out of almost nothing – just vision, a small room and a couple of gaming controllers – in a year. He did all of the branding and marketing. And this quiet leader did most of the talking and selling.
He answered every question with emphatic solutions that vaulted his little Southern Lab school into the national spotlight. However, one still seemed to stump him: Why doesn’t the university that you share a campus with not have an affiliation or interest in esports?
He paused and started to speak but stopped himself. They simply weren’t ready.
So, he kept leaning in. And Southern University finally gave in. Late Tuesday, the university announced that Turner would become the general manager and head coach of its first full-fledged varsity esports program.
It is historic on several fronts. Southern University, like many historically black colleges and universities, has been cautious about pursuing esports. But there has been a huge shift in interest and pursuit among HBCUs in recent months. Thanks to the backing of celebrities and donors and the guidance of many leaders who see the potential career paths for students, many are jumping on this unstoppable bandwagon.
For Southern University and Turner, the partnership has one potentially incredible implication – the deal creates one of the first direct pipelines for student-athletes to go from K-12 to college on one campus. The other team in Baton Rouge boasting a national title, the LSU football team, can’t even say that.
There have been blockbuster esports deals the past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic – the State University of New York’s launch of its own league for all 64 schools, the Mid-American Conference’s launch of a separate esports league and partnership deals galore – but nothing like what Turner and company have accomplished at Southern.
“We will be the only program to reach students from Pre K to Ph.D,” Turner says proudly. “Our goal is to increase student involvement in STEM-related careers, compete for scholarships, and create internship opportunities.”
The new Southern University esports program has plans to join several esports organizations, including the Southwest Athletic Conference, HBCU Esports, Tespa, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, and Collegiate Star League.
Southern is planning on launching its season in the spring of 2021 in NBA 2K21, Call of Duty, and Fortnite. Titles being considered for the fall are Rocket League, Super Smash Bros., Madden NFL, and FIFA.
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at [email protected]