Marquette Athletics will be the first Division I athletic department in a major conference to have varsity esports, or competitive video gaming, university president Michael Lovell announced in his annual address Wednesday afternoon.
The team will launch in fall 2019 and will have tryouts, coaches and regular practices, just like any of Marquette’s other 14 intercollegiate teams.
“Being named after an explorer means it’s in Marquette’s DNA to define the opportunities of tomorrow and ensure we’re anticipating what future students will expect,” Lovell said.
The search for a coach has not started yet Bill Scholl, the vice president and director of athletics, said.
“We have to work through that a bit,” Scholl said.
The university plans to create a state-of-the-art esports facility to host the new team with funding from corporate partners and donors, according to the Marquette Athletics website. The facility will be open to esports athletes and the general Marquette student body, Lovell said.
Scholl and Lovell said the university is looking to renovate a space for the new sport instead of building an entirely new space on campus. Scholl said leaders are discussing different spaces, but have yet to select a space. Lovell said the cost will be “significant, but not in the seven-figure range.”
“First is identifying the space where it is going to happen, and then actually just transforming the space so that it supports these said activities,” Lovell said. “We expect that to happen sometime over the summer.”
The university has hired consultants to help look for sponsors, which Lovell said will be “fairly easy.”
“There are a significant amount of sponsorships that are available — those that supply the equipment, those that supply the games, along with other professional organizations that want to invest in these activities,” Lovell said.
The athletic department will oversee the team in collaboration with the College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Student Affairs and Office of Admissions. Esports has been a club sport since 2015, with about 40 students participating.
“We had a great appetite from our athletic department because (esports) was already part of the BIG EAST competition,” Lovell said. “We decided that (Athletics) would be a great place for it to be housed.”
Marquette Athletics spokesperson Scott Kuykendall said the athletic department will not initially give out scholarships to prospective esports participants, but it is “certainly a possibility down the road.”
Scholl said the BIG EAST has discussed the feasibility of esports at recent meetings, and he said most schools in the conference already have esports clubs on campus. Other clubs are often housed in student affairs departments or honors colleges.
Schools across the country have added competitive video gaming as a varsity team, including Boise State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Utah. However, Marquette is the first to have the team housed in an athletic department as a varsity sport, Kuykendall said.
Esports has grown quickly in the last few years. It is expected to have a global audience of 580 million people by 2020, according to a university statement.
University leaders also noted the opportunity esports has to recruit students in important academic areas. About 70 percent of collegiate esports players are in science, technology, engineering or math fields, according to the athletic department’s website.
Other universities have already developed academic gaming programs. DePaul University, which is also a member of the BIG EAST and has a Catholic affiliation, offers a bachelor’s degree in game design.
“That’s something we would be open to considering,” Lovell said. “We’ll have a discussion with the faculty about whether that’s something to pursue.”