Southern Arkansas University’s eSports and Competitive Gaming program has doubled in size since its inception last year and looking to add more options.

Sandra Martin, dean of Housing and advisor to Mulerider eSports and Competitive Gaming at Southern Arkansas University, said 13 eSports teams have formed, comprised of about 100 members.

“We have one of the largest university-level eSports programs in Arkansas,” she said. “It’s a great outlet for students, enabling them to develop skills they might not have otherwise discovered.”

A new gaming lab, called The Gaming Hub, featuring 18 Alienware computers, as well as Playstation and X-Box consoles, has been added to the second floor of the Reynolds Center.

Though the lab has certain hours dedicated to team practice, it is open to all students from 8 a.m. to midnight. A smaller gaming lab is also available in Honors Hall.

The SAU eSPorts program boasts teams in “Call of Duty,” “CS: Global Offensive,” “Fortnite,” “Injustice 2,” “League of Legends,” “Madden NFL,” “Magic: The Gathering,” “NBA 2K,” “Overwatch,“ “Rainbow Six Siege,” “Rocket League,” “StarCraft,” and “Super Smash Bros.”

A “Dungeons & Dragons” community has also formed on campus, and more games are expected to be added.

Gaming develops leadership, time management and social skills and represents a healthy alternative to staying in one’s dorm room. It directs students toward a growing career field and encourages them to interact with and meet professionals in the gaming and game design industries.

Martin said SAU’s administration has been very supportive of the program, which for the first time is providing scholarships. Half of this year’s eSports team members are freshmen, she said, and prospective students are already reaching out to SAU inquiring about the program.

Alex Suiter, a junior game animation design major from Memphis, serves as captain of the “Magic: The Gathering” team.

He got into the game at the beginning of his freshman year. “One of my friends got me to sit down and play and get my mind off stress,” he said.

He now captains the four-person team which has competed in several tournaments.

“This past year we competed in Dallas-Fort Worth, and we have been all around Arkansas,” he said. “SAU helps us with travel.”

Participating is a good way to meet other people, even for those not interested in playing competitively. “You can just come and have fun,” Suiter said. “If you’ve had a bad day, it’s a good release.”

Anfernee Waller, a sophomore game animation and simulation design major from Haynesville, LA, plays for the “Smash Bros. Ultimate” team. He’s been playing videogames since childhood and got involved in SAU’s online community because of his love for Smash Bros.

He said eSports is still new to most university campuses in Arkansas but that SAU has gone about establishing its program the right way by giving students a dedicated space in which to practice.

“Just like football and baseball teams need space, we do, too,” Waller said.

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