Dr. Lawson-Williams on How to Build an HBCU Esports Program – The Esports Observer

In this opinion piece, Johnson C. Smith University Professor of Sports Management Dr. BerNadette Lawson-Williams talks about the success of the first HBCU Esports and Gaming Trifecta program that she was an integral part of launching at the university.

After 24 years “in the game” of traditional sports, discovering the world of electronic sports has been nothing less than electrifying—pun intended. While it seemed like an epiphany to me, it has been no surprise to many of my colleagues that I have quickly become enamored with the esports and gaming ecosystem. After all, I was only a gamer girl in the 80s and close enough to being the champion of my neighborhood (at least my street, smile) in some of my favorite classic video games: Pac Man, Asteroids, and Donkey Kong. Also, as the mother of two avid gamers, my pre-teen twin sons, my destiny in gaming was bound to make a comeback, although more than three decades later.

The spark that ignited my interest in moving my action plan forward is a conversation that I had with a colleague about the paucity of HBCUs that had any type of esports presence on their campuses, whether academic program or club. Thus, the light bulb went off at that very moment and has been illuminated since that time.

As the founder/advisor of JCSU’s Esports and Gaming Trifecta, the first at an HBCU, my involvement in developing, implementing, and coordinating almost every aspect of this entity has been multi-faceted. Truthfully, nothing less should be expected when planting the seeds for a program and cultivating them into a garden overflowing with opportunities aimed at helping students to experience success in esports/gaming, both educationally and competitively.

An immense amount of effort was exhibited during the development and execution phases of building JCSU’s Esports and Gaming Trifecta, which consists of: 1) an esports and gaming management academic program/certificate program, 2) esports lab; and 3) game development club/esports club. As the advisor of the Trifecta, I am responsible for managing each of these components, the first of which was instituted in February 2020 – an academic program in esports and gaming management that focuses on the business side of the esports and gaming industries.

The next component of JCSU’s Esports and Gaming Trifecta, which has emerged to be one of the most impactful “game changers” is our esports club. In less than six months after playing its first match, our club has acquired notable success as evidenced by a long list of victories against well-known institutions across the nation, many which boast varsity programs, thus becoming an unexpected, yet dominant force in the collegiate esports and gaming ecosystem.

This opportunity wouldn’t be possible without the help of PlayVS, who has given us the platform to perform on the biggest stages of collegiate esports. Our partnership with PlayVS allows our students great insight into the industry and gives them the tools to thrive in both esports and STEM careers in the future. Just like us at JCSU, PlayVS is committed to providing a best-in-class esports experience for students by increasing diversity and accessibility.

Lastly, the development of our esports lab has been one of the most intriguing and enlightening experiences that I have encountered while building our Trifecta. From designing the esports lab layout to researching and ordering the peripherals, then installing them, the progress of my definitive efforts is quite evident. The room, which just one year ago was an occasional meeting spot for faculty and students attending training sessions, will now be the home to our Trifecta family: our esports and gaming management academic program, game development, and esports club. This is officially the space where esports academia will intersect with competitive esports.

Beyond my role in developing our Trifecta, I have also been instrumental in building and maintaining our Trifecta’s brand as a premier collegiate esports and gaming dynasty. Through the establishment of partnerships with leading global endemic and non-endemic corporations such as: Riot Games, Nacon Gaming/RIG Brands, POINT3, the official jersey provider for JCSU’s Esports Club, and most recently, CEV Collection, a Dallas-based premier eyewear company focused on improving eye health within esports and gaming with its Blue Light blocking glasses, and the official gaming eyewear provider for our Esports Club, our Trifecta has solidified its platform as a pioneer in transforming the HBCU esports and gaming landscape.

The accomplishments of our Esports and Gaming Trifecta have been featured in prominent publications such as: the Washington Post, CNN Business, International Business Times, ESPN’s Undefeated, The Esports Observer, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and EdTech Magazine, among many others. Most notably, our Trifecta has been widely recognized as a “blueprint” for HBCU Esports. However, the representation of our Trifecta extends far beyond HBCU Esports, JCSU Esports, or CIAA Esports. It represents the entire collegiate esports and gaming ecosystem.

I look forward to developing positive esports and gaming opportunities in the future that benefit ALL gamers, one controller at a time.

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