Lourdes University, a small private liberal arts school near Toledo, Ohio, has just announced the inception of a varsity esports program. The program makes Ohio a very exciting state to watch in the developing collegiate esports ecosystem, as just last March Miami University (OH) announced a varsity program of their own. Lourdes’ program will aim to compete in the 2017-18 academic year and will offer a supportive environment, top-notch facilities, and an enticing scholarship package to accommodate their esports players, according to Director of Esports Cory Cahill.
Cahill, a former competitive Halo player from 2003-2009 and current Lourdes Men’s and Women’s Assistant Volleyball coach, thought that his competitive gaming days had ended eight years ago. “I got into college coaching for volleyball,” he said. “I didn’t expect to get into the esports side at all.” However, when the university’s new president, Mary Ann Gawelek, arrived determined to bring Lourdes up to speed in the digital era, esports suddenly became part of the conversation.
The Lourdes University Campus – Image Source: Lourdes University Website
In the university’s official press release, Gawelek stated that, “Competitive video gaming requires students to possess excellent critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills – which are transferrable to their academic pursuits. In addition, these individuals must follow a strong fitness regimen and have a healthy mind and spirit.” At Lourdes, the aim will be to connect esports subculture to the mainstream college environment. In order to do that, the university is taking great pains to ensure that its players will feel comfortable in their new environment.
The first step in promoting that comfort was choosing a program director that understood the playing field. The university discovered Cahill’s Halo background and asked him to do some research on collegiate esports, according to his own account. Cahill presented his findings and was informed in December that an esports program had been approved for 2017-18. The director-to-be then began to put out feelers for recruitment, posting on message boards and forums inquiring after League of Legends talent.
Cahill hopes to bring in 20-30 players for next fall in order to build between four and six LoL teams for competition in the Collegiate StarLeague and the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NAC eSports). His plan is to start with League, because it is currently the largest collegiate esports platform, and then move into other games such as Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm in year two or three. “Just the following really,” explained Cahill when asked about choosing League as his starting point. “In terms of the size of the fanbase and the longevity of the game as well. There’s not going to be a League of Legends 2, 3, 4, 5, and it just holds its fan base so well that it just makes sense.”
Cory Cahill, the Lourdes University Director of Esports – Image Source: Lourdes University Athletics
The school’s LoL players will use repurposed and renovated space on campus that will be outfitted with every gaming amenity. “All of our setups are going to be top of the line,” insisted Cahill. “[The university] wants to make it comfortable for the players.” This means that not only space, but top-of-the-line computers, monitors, and even chairs will be seen to by the university in order to create an optimal esports environment. To help with this pursuit, the university has already been in contact with PC specialists, iBUYPOWER, and peripherals and accessory specialists, E-Blue Gaming.
The Grey Wolves will also aggressively pursue quality coaching staff and analysts for their teams. The support staff, which will be comprised entirely of part-time positions, will help promote a healthy and comfortable team environment to go with the facilities. Cahill stated that he is already in talks with several candidates for coaching positions that he is excited about, and hopes that one of them will be able to take on a larger role as an assistant director of sorts who will help him with recruitment and administration for the teams in addition to his coaching responsibilities.
The final piece of the puzzle will be scholarships. According to Cahill, Lourdes’ scholarship program will allow student-athletes to significantly cut their out-of-pocket tuition costs. “We’re going to be able to stack both academic and athletic scholarships,” he explained. “The academic scholarship is based on their GPA [for transfers] and on their standardized test scores [for high school graduates]. The esports scholarship will be merit-based. Between the two we can put together a very, very nice package that I think people will be very impressed with.” While the scholarships will only be partial, Cahill remained adamant that the financial aid would only add to the appeal of a school that is already so committed to their future esports program.
Gawelek and Cahill both hope to make collegiate esports at Lourdes truly integrated with the rest of the university. “We’re going to hopefully make these esports athletes feel like athletes,” stated Cahill. “All of our sports support each other and you’re part of the Lourdes family, so we want them to feel like they’re part of that. I think it can be a really positive experience for really anyone that’s going to come.”
Anyone interested in the Lourdes University Esports program can mark esports as an interest on their application on the university’s website, fill out a questionnaire on the university’s athletics website, or email Cahill directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.