Many college athletes strive for success on the gridiron or the hard court.

Soon, Kilgore College students will enter a realm of digital competition, using quick fingers on game controllers and keyboards to outwit opponents on virtual battlefields.

KC’s new esports program is set to launch this fall semester with student and former Kilgore business owner Andy Taylor at the helm.

“I’m a student of business at KC right now,” Taylor said.

“During my second semester, one of my professors asked me to do a project and I decided to do a gaming tournament. I began planning and put on a tournament. During that, I realized the school could probably benefit from having an esports team. There wasn’t one in existence. I was part of the Game Club and it was there that I began to work on it. I’d meet with people at school about getting it started up and it’s progressed from there.”

Esports, short for “electronic sports”, are a form of organized, competitive video game tournaments. Esports events often involve individual players or teams of players who compete in a specific multiplayer game.

Players and teams train for competition by playing games and developing strategies to give them an edge against other players.

While it may sound like a glorified gaming party, esports is a very big deal.

A July 2018 Forbes article predicted the esports industry may generate more than $900 million for that single year. Revenue is generated from corporate sponsorships, advertising and ticket sales to esports events.

Collegiate-level esports are growing as well; driven in part by the fact many avid gamers are young people about to enter college or currently enrolled.

A Wired.com article from January 2019 said nearly 200 U.S. colleges offer scholarships for students who join their esports teams.

“There’s a huge wave that’s happening right now with esports,” Taylor said.

“It’s impacting a lot of different industries. (Kilgore College) saw an opportunity there. We began to work on it and they brought me on this summer to get the program rolling for this fall.”

Taylor said the KC esports group had registered with Tespa, a collegiate esports organization originally founded at the University of Texas at Austin. The organization has become nationwide and is sponsored by Blizzard Entertainment, a massively popular game development company behind some of the hottest game titles in recent years, including “World of Warcraft”, “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone”.

Taylor said the KC group is a student-formed organization but he hopes to register with the National Association for Collegiate Esports, a group which hosts varsity esports competitions.

The KC Game Club’s tournaments helped attract members to the new group and are already helping students attend college, a goal which the college’s esports team is working toward as well.

The most recent tournament awarded KC scholarships to five tournament winners.

“I’ve been fielding emails from students who weren’t going to go to college but are now considering it because of esports,” Taylor said.

New members on the esports team can receive career counseling and learn about career options available to them in the growing industry.

“It’s not just players,” Taylor said.

“Just like traditional sports, there are broadcasters and trainers. Those are all facets of esports as well. All of the programs available at KC, there’s a place in the esports industry for all of the courses they offer.”

 The esports industry has positions for a wide variety of students, from those studying kinesiology to those aiming to attend law school or to study journalism.

There’s also a natural tie-in for computer science students who want to learn how to build games of their own or those who study app development and computer programming.

“Our esports program is housed under the computer sciences division under Dr. Ginger Dennis. She has the Computer and Information Technology Club and Mark Stevens is a professor of computer science. He’s developing apps and games and different coding projects and they’re all directly involved and most students in those programs and the Game Club are involved in esports as well.”

Taylor said the creation of KC’s esports team is the end result of a lifelong dream.

“I’ve been a gamer my whole life. I always had a dream of making a career out of video games. Back in the 80s, that was laughable idea. Until recently, nobody thought it was possible to make a career out of video games.”

Taylor ran a Kilgore store for two and a half years called “Geek Eazy”, a gaming and computer repair shop which regularly hosted game tournaments.

An oilfield slowdown meant locals had less money to spend on entertainment which directly affected Taylor’s business.

He decided to close his shop and pursue a business degree. He’d tried to get a degree earlier in life but it didn’t work out, he said, and had always wanted to attend KC.

He made the decision to enroll and that choice set things in motion for him.

“It has been exciting. It’s been a very surreal experience. I fell into the right place at the right time,” he said, adding he earned a esports business certificate from an Oregon university. In that college’s first offering of the certificate, Taylor’s class held 25 students from around the world. Only two were from Texas and the other student dropped out, making Taylor the first in the Lone Star State to earn the certification.  

Taylor said he’s thrilled to be on the ground floor of a new and exciting opportunity in Kilgore.

“I’m ecstatic as a Kilgore native to be able to give something back, especially to the youth. There’s not a whole lot in the way of entertainment for kids here in town. A lot of students in the program were customers of mine. I’m attending college alongside younger customers and friends. To be able to work alongside them is a dream come true.”

The Game Club will host two tournaments in the fall semester and the esports team will be actively recruiting throughout that time.

Taylor said they currently have 7 players registered and he expects to have 20 or 30 players eventually.

He added, as of now, there are only Texas collegiate esports divisions at 4-year universities. However, there are regional competitions and KC is one of only two junior colleges in the southern region.

This means KC esports players may get the chance to compete against major universities like UT, A&M or MIT.

“To score a win against a big national university from a two-year junior college would be awesome.”

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