There has been no lag in Southern Arkansas University’s response to the national trending of eSports popularity on college campuses.

Josh Turner, a senior Mass Communication: Mass Media major from Texarkana, Arkansas, is student advisor to eSports. According to a press release, the program grew from the Gaming Guild that Turner helped establish here during his freshman year. He calls SAU a natural home to the online competitive sports which are sweeping the nation.

SAU’s affordable tuition and the computer game and animation design programs create an attractive option for anyone interested in games. The curriculum provides innovative ways for students to become active in the community and a healthy outlet for eSports participants.

“I knew I wanted to bring eSports to Southern Arkansas University,” Turner said. “Last year, some of us with the Gaming Guild competed in an (online) competition, placing fourth in regionals. After that, we started trying to establish eSports on campus.”

The Gaming Guild provides gamers with a community in which they can meet, hold events and network. “We started in 2016, just out of a love of all kinds of games,” Turner said. “It took a while to get off the ground, but it’s grown a good amount.”

Cassandra Lovell, a senior Performing Arts: Musical Theatre major from Benton, Arkansas, co-founded the Gaming Guild with Turner. “We both had started paperwork on a gaming organization,” she said, “and when I met Josh, we decided to collaborate. We knew there were more students on campus who were into some of the games we played, but we didn’t know how to find them. We also knew there were some who kept to themselves. The Guild is all about connecting people and giving them an opportunity to find fellow players.”

Sandra Martin, dean of housing, said SAU has answered the call for eSports. Almost 100 students expressed an interest in having the program on campus. There are now eight game-specific teams under the Guild umbrella. Gamers at SAU participate in a variety of multiplayer games.

GAMING LAB HONORS HALL: Students enjoy playing eSports in the new gaming lab in Honors Hall South. - SAU

“The program is very student-centered, and we are excited to build eSports and see our teams compete,” Martin said.

A Gaming Living and Learning Community is located in Honors Hall South, where a computer lab is available for eSports. Many students in Honors South are studying Game and Animation Design. Four computers have been donated to the lab, and Turner has been in talks with potential sponsors in the industry. Additional equipment, clothing and gaming peripherals would enhance player practices and give eSports teams a professional look. Financial donations are also welcome.

Turner hopes to grow eSports at SAU into a fully competitive program offering scholarship opportunities. “We don’t want our players to just say, ‘I won this tournament,’” he said. “We want our players to say, ‘I won a national tournament, and my tuition is paid for the next three years.’”

He hopes eSports at SAU will follow the competitive athletics model. Practice and training are requirements of competitive gaming, he explained, with an emphasis on physical and mental health. “You can’t play well if you are not in peak condition, so it’s important that players are doing all the right things.”

A cancer survivor, Turner found support among online gamers while in treatment. “Having that community helped,” he said. “It was like having a team around me. If you have teammates you can rely on, you’re going to eat right, work out, get enough sleep and go to class. Academics and health come first. We don’t want any of our members to have issues.”

Turner thanked Dr. Trey Berry, SAU president, and Sheryl Edwards, assistant to the president, for their support of eSports. “They have both been so helpful,” he said. Members of SAU administration donated the computers to the gaming lab.

“SAU is always interested in developing new avenues to enhance student engagement,” Berry said. “We encourage students to present ideas, and our eSports program is a great example of a student-led initiative. Because Josh and Cassandra presented the idea for a gaming and eSports organization on campus, many students are able to participate in a student activity that completes their college experience.”

For more information about the Game and Animation Design programs at SAU, please visit https://web.saumag.edu/gaming.