The esports explosion has reached the Philadelphia college community, as the 76ers Gaming Club and Saint Joseph's University unveiled an esports partnership last week. With the goal of empowering the development of esports in the area, it's a promising endeavor for the budding esports presence at SJU.
Jill Bodensteiner, SJU's Director of Athletics, is proud of this gaming integration and the possibilities it brings for the university's student body at both the academic and athletic level.
"The university’s approach to esports is multi-faceted," Bodensteiner said when speaking with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "In addition to the club sport option, we opened a tech-forward, multi-use lab and developed academic coursework to help launch recession-resistant careers."
"The first dedicated academic class is going very well and had full enrollment this semester," Bodensteiner says regarding the burgeoning esports program that goes beyond mere club sports competition. "I was able to serve as a guest lecturer and the student feedback regarding the class as a whole was fantastic.
"We are beginning to make an intentional effort to introduce our gaming opportunities to interested prospective students. It is clear that esports is one of the areas of opportunity students are interested in, and we hope to grow our academic program as time goes on. Initial talks are already underway."
Esports have a growing presence not just nationally, but in Philly as well. Development is underway for Fusion Arena, an esports-specific gaming arena home to the Philadelphia Fusion that will sit down at the Sports Complex in South Philly. While Bodensteiner indicates that there have been no discussion about hosting SJU esports functions there, it's an opportunity that the program would welcome in the future.
While Saint Joseph's esports team remains at the club level, there is a huge increase in varsity esports programs across the country and in the area too. From colleges as far as Boise State and George State to local ones like Arcadia University and Albright College, the esports boom is fully underway.
Saint Joseph's isn't quite making that jump yet, but Bodensteiner remains committed to guiding the program forward.
"Right now, our focus is on providing support to the club sport team, which was just elevated to that level this year. We’re excited to see their team continue to grow and succeed," Bodensteiner said. "It is apparent that there is tremendous potential for growth.
"We don’t have any immediate plans for a varsity team, but are aware some of our peers are at that point, and will evaluate that as we continue to grow our program."