Theology professor Corrine Carvalho holds an Xbox One controller January 19, 2017 at her home in St. Paul. Student Mike Best and Carvalho have been exploring the intersection of theology and video gaming. They get together to game once a week.

Minnesota Private Colleges, Universities to Square off in Esports Tournament

The first statewide intercollegiate esports tournament in Minnesota is set for June 5 and 6, pitting students of eight Minnesota schools in competition and highlighting the increasingly popular gaming’s growth at St. Thomas and across the state.

Teams from St. Thomas, Hamline University, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, Carleton College, Augsburg University, Bethel University, and College of Saint Scholastica are expected to square off, with the competitions livestreaming on Twitch starting at 10 a.m. each day.

Click here to view the Twitch feed on June 5 and 6.

“There are no live sports to watch right now, so the idea was that we can stream something fun where the schools are having a friendly competition,” said Ed Clark, St. Thomas’ CIO and vice president for innovation and technology services. Hamline CIO David Chun and St. Benedict CIO Casey Gordon worked with Clark to organize the event.

"It's a great opportunity for our entire community to experience the future of intercollegiate competition," Clark said.

St. Thomas’ student esports club has grown significantly since its creation three years ago, swelling to more than 100 members this year, said Alex Walrath. Along with weekly competitions between St. Thomas students, many club members have traveled throughout the Midwest to compete semiprofessionally, Walrath said.

“It’s a lot of people that have done LAN parties growing up and want to keep playing with people, so having that competition and shared goals gets people together and working toward something,” he added. “It’s a lot of fun, too. Getting to do a hobby and compete against others who have the same interests, it’s a new experience and something a lot of people haven’t done before.”

Growing … fast

More and more people are experiencing esports, which is widely considered the fastest-growing professional sport in the world: Goldman Sachs estimates that esports monthly audience size will grow from its 2018 monthly viewership of 167 million to 276 million by 2022. Already, the viewership of esports on YouTube and Twitch is more than HBO, Netflix and ESPN combined.

Colleges and universities across the country have become hot spots for esports clubs; several Division I schools have created varsity programs for it.

“It’s expanding quickly. The genre and market behind it is exploding right now,” Walrath said.

The June 5 and 6 competition will feature popular titles including Rocket League, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Walrath said he and fellow club members are looking forward to the intercollegiate competition and continuing to spread awareness about their burgeoning sport.

“The biggest tournaments fill up the biggest arenas in the world,” he said. “It just takes time for people who have no idea about it to see how much this actually means to a lot of people.”