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A New Phenomenon: Esports at the Mount

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

esports feature

Whether we play video games on our phone while we wait in line or enjoy Xbox with friends, gaming looms large in the lives of 2.7 billion of the world's people and permeates our culture. This trend is expressed in the growing phenomenon of esports, where gamers compete in a variety of settings and across different gaming platforms. Mount St. Mary's University introduced esports to campus last fall, allowing interested students to practice with each other and test their skills against other universities in a well-supported, healthy environment.

russ-headshot-cropped.jpgIn 2019, the university hired Russell Hamer to develop and coach in the program. Hamer, who earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Marquette University and is about to release his first book, Understanding Kierkegaard's Parables, recently expanded the esports program by introducing an academic minor, esports and gaming, just approved by the Mount’s faculty.

As director of the program, Hamer saw firsthand how gaming culture was growing on campus and decided to propose the minor. Throughout the course of study, students will learn about a growing industry that continues to create many jobs. “The minor is going to be relatively broad and will be housed in the College of Liberal Arts,” Hamer said. “It will examine games from a media-studies perspective, a business perspective, and a philosophy perspective to help students gain a better understanding of how they function.” Courses in the program will cover board games, card games, role-playing and historical games, video games, as well as esports. Games will be examined as cultural artifacts and as systems designed to create specialized experiences.

esports114.jpgHamer is excited at the prospect of what a gaming minor could bring to the Mount. With the widespread use of computer games and the growth of esports, Hamer believes the program will be well received by students who wish to dive more deeply into an activity that engages them as well as an industry with many career opportunities. “The video game industry is larger than the music and television industries combined,” he exclaimed. “If students want to move into these huge and growing industries, there’s a lot of space.”

During the fall semester, Hamer offered Streaming Practicum, a course which taught Mount students how to announce and broadcast live video games and other streamed events. This semester he is teaching ESGS 200 Video Games and Society, a useful starting point for the minor. The course covers realism and immersion, narrative, diversity and representation, emotions, ethics and violence. Studying these topics creates an understanding of gaming and esports as cultural phenomena. Video Games and Society joins ESGS 300 Game Mechanics and Systems as a foundation for the minor. Beyond these two courses, students may choose from an intriguing list that includes courses in business, communication, computer science, sociology, psychology and history. Hamer observed that student interest is strong: “We didn’t get Video Games and Society added until after advising week, but a full class signed up this semester.”

Because the program is being housed in the College of Liberal Arts, students from different disciplines may efficiently complete the game studies minor. Hamer said he “wanted to put together a minor that allowed students who have an interest in e-sports to be able to pair that with a variety of majors.” For example, students in business, communication, computer science and sports management may count some of their major courses toward the minor.

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The esports and gaming minor not only gives students opportunities to learn more about the gaming industry, but it also opens opportunities for them to get involved with the growing esports program on campus. Last fall, the Mount introduced esports as a premier sport and transformed the building formerly known as “1808” into a state-of-the art gaming studio and classroom. If you walk into Purcell Hall now, you will find team members practicing or students and their friends meeting up for a friendly game. Even those who have not declared the minor or are not participating as athletes can produce livestreams and complete other academic projects through the esports program.

Current senior communication major Katie Schisler, who has produced livestreams for the program this year, has witnessed the growth of esports on campus. “Overall, it’s a great outlet for students who occasionally need a break from their studies," she said. "The program also provides student-leadership opportunities as well as opportunities to learn more about the industry.” Schisler is confident that esports and the new gaming minor will convince prospective students with an interest in gaming as a career to come to the Mount.

Assistant Director of Residence Life Brent Johnson has assisted the esports program this year. As a coach, his top priority is to make sure his athletes are succeeding in their academics. “Once that priority is settled,” he stated, “students can focus on fun and social activities.” Johnson and Hamer also emphasize the importance of being good teammates and opponents. Johnson explained, “We want to ensure that students from other schools leave our matches with a sense that they’ve just played against opponents who respect them, and everyone has had an enjoyable experience.”

With the introduction of the gaming minor and the growing nature of esports at the Mount, Purcell has become a space where students can come together and bond over a shared interest. “The program provides a place for people to build community and find a sense of belonging, which is a necessity for a great college experience,” Johnson emphasized. “The environment is welcoming and inclusive for everyone, and people can find common ground regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or religion.”

If you have any questions about the gaming minor or the esports program, contact Russell Hamer at r.a.hamer@msmary.edu.

Rebecca McDermott
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts