ST. PAUL (WCCO) — College students are turning their passion for playing video games into a competitive sport that helps them pay for school.

Concordia University in St. Paul is one of two colleges in Minnesota with an official varsity esports team.
Some students on the team even get partial scholarships, funded by the university.

“Start it up,” said Logan Hermes as he hovers over two rows of high-tech gaming computers, about half of which have a team member seated in front.

There’s no ball or bat here, nor is this a gym or field. But in this digital arena the competition, preparation, and teamwork help put the athlete in “student-athlete” at Concordia University, St. Paul.

“What we’re doing here isn’t just a fad,” said Hermes, the head coach for Concordia’s esports team. “They’re not taking two hours out of their day just to play a game. They’re building something with a group of people in the same aspect you would build any other traditional team with, whether it be soccer, football or baseball.”

Esports, or competitive gaming, is not recognized as an official NCAA sport. That’s why Concordia St. Paul is part of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, a nonprofit membership organization.

It currently has more than 170 participating schools with more than 5,000 student athletes nationwide, like Concordia sophomore Matthew Walker.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s just like any other sport. We have practice three days a week, I have one-on-one (with coach) one day a week,” he said. “It’s the same balance of being able to practice and still having to do all your schoolwork.”

Concordia’s team has 20 members, some who walked-on through tryouts earlier this fall and others who were recruited out of high school.

If talented enough, some get scholarships up to $3,000. “There’s potential that if you do really well, where we see you as someone we wouldn’t want to lose,” Hermes said of the scholarship offers.

He coaches the team across four video games including Overwatch, Rocket League, League of Legends and Hearthstone. At times he focuses on the players’ positions of their characters in a game, how they’re communications with other, and make sure they have a solid strategy when gaming instead of just being reactive.

“All of these games have different levels of communication, different levels of engagement in different periods of the game,” he said.

The players focus their time on the one game they’re best at, then compete against other schools.
“If we win we say yeah, we’re part of this university, it’s kind of like bragging points,” said freshman Jeremiah Lee.

Like other student athletes, most here won’t make a career out of gaming. But in the booming esports world, with a global market expected to surpass $1.1 billion dollars this year, the possibilities are endless.

“Now that I’m on an esports team, I am one step closer to my dream to become a professional,” said Lee.

Guiding them to that goal is just one of Hermes’ missions, the other is creating a foundation that will allow collegiate esports to thrive.

“And if we can do that successfully, whether it be in our first year, our second year, then esports will not be seen as just a new thing, it’ll just be something that we do,” Hermes said.

Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato is the other Minnesota school to offer scholarships for its esports
The University of Minnesota has an esports club with more than 300 members. However, the U of M itself does not offer scholarships.

Jeff Wagner