St. Mary’s University will be home to San Antonio’s first collegiate esports arena as the private university finishes renovating existing campus space into a gaming amphitheater this spring and launches its new esports program this fall.  

With competitive video gaming set to grow into a $3 billion industry by 2025, St. Mary’s is hoping to position itself on the leading edge, enticing students to be involved in collegiate team sports. The university announced recently esports would become the Rattlers’ 12th intercollegiate sport.

“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world,” said St. Mary’s Athletic Director Robert Coleman, “and we want to connect with future Rattlers in the San Antonio area.”

The university will invest an estimated $120,000 to $150,000 over the next year toward getting its esports program off the ground, Coleman said.

Other area colleges, such as Kerrville’s Schreiner University and Texas A&M-San Antonio, also recently started their own varsity esports programs, with Schreiner’s program now in its third year and Texas A&M-San Antonio set to launch its own this fall. Offering intercollegiate esports has helped bring in students who may not have otherwise attended these universities, said Schreiner esports Coach Ryan Lucich.

“I was deciding between Texas A&M and Texas Tech when a friend of mine showed me an ad for Schreiner’s esports program and I totally jumped at the idea,” said Brandon Sham, one of Schreiner’s e-athletes.

Sham, a junior accounting major from Victoria, said Schreiner’s $1,000 esports scholarship sealed the deal for him.

Recognizing that esports will see a 14.4 percent annual growth rate in viewers through 2021, Schreiner jumped on the chance to build its program in fall of 2018, said David Gehrels, director of student affairs for Schreiner.

Schreiner recruits at gaming cafes in San Antonio and at area high schools, Lucich said.

With an enrollment of about 1,400, the private university has about 30 students on the esports team now and aims to have as many as 80 when the team’s complete, Gehrels said.

Texas A&M-San Antonio is set to have its first e-athletes this upcoming fall, part of the launch of intercollegiate sports at the school. After the university hired esports Coach Travis Yang two weeks ago, campus staff are setting out to recruit interested students, said Darnell Smith, the college’s director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports.

“From an enrollment standpoint it helps, from meeting needs of our students it helps, so hopefully it allows us to build something really special on our campus,” Smith said. “So we have to think about the future, too, not just now.”

Texas A&M-San Antonio is building an esports suite that will house 13 Alienware gaming desktop computers for its team’s practice space. The suite is set to be completed this year.

At St. Mary’s, the e-athletes that make the team will compete in an 864-square-foot arena in St. Mary’s University Center, which serves as a hub for students.  

The esports arena, which will have amphitheater-style seating for about 30 people, is being fitted out with 15 Alienware gaming desktop computers, two Xbox One X consoles, two PlayStation 4 consoles, new glass doors and wall wraps. The renovation, set to be completed by March, is costing the university about $60,000, not including new equipment costs.

The team will likely start off with 25 to 30 players this fall and will join the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), which has more than 170 member schools. St. Mary’s e-athletes will compete online against students from other universities and colleges in four or five different arcade-style video games.

St. Mary’s officials plan to hire a head coach and an assistant coach by the end of February. However, Coleman said the program won’t initially offer scholarships.

Deliberate discussions about creating an esports program at St. Mary’s started about six months ago, Coleman said. 

“It got very serious very fast,” Coleman said. “We jumped on it.”

Still, San Antonio’s entry into the booming esports scene is on a much smaller scale than in Dallas and Houston, both of which have established professional gaming teams with corporate sponsors. The nation’s largest esports arena is located in Arlington.

Port San Antonio is aiming to get in on the action by incorporating San Antonio’s first private gaming arena into its planned 130,000-square-foot innovation center.

A rendering of the Port San Antonio facility that could include a competitive gaming arena.
An innovation center will be constructed on the 1,900-acre Port San Antonio campus. Credit: Courtesy / Port SA

The arena will be multi-purposed with facilities for both tech training and robotics competitions, giving it a broader scope of use, said Will Garrett, vice president and director of cybersecurity development for Port San Antonio. 

The decision to include an esports arena in the innovation center was influenced by clear growth in San Antonio’s esports scene, Port San Antonio CEO Jim Perschbach said.

While Port San Antonio is still in the process of designing the innovation center, officials expect to have the plans finalized with more details in the late spring, including the project’s overall cost and financing details, said a Port San Antonio spokesman.

If the project is approved by Port San Antonio’s board this spring, construction is expected to start immediately, with a completion timeline of approximately a year, the Port spokesman said.

About a third of the space within the innovation center will be dedicated to the arena, and seating capacity is expected to be about 2,000 to 2,500 people.

Port San Antonio’s interest in esports stems from its potential as a training ground for future developers, cybersecurity workers, military personnel, and more, Perschbach said. 

“The military uses gaming techniques to train the next generation of pilots, and other in other career opportunities – gaming could be a great opportunity to find recruits,” Perschbach said.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.