The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s eSports program started in 2017 but attempts to turn the club into a varsity sport with scholarships are underway.
The quick shift of collegiate eSports from club sports into varsity is something that many other schools across the country are beginning to do, and this is a major goal for the Ragin’ Cajuns eSports organization.
President of Ragin’ Cajuns eSports Robert Lafleur described how UL Lafayette is taking their organization more seriously but can still improve to become a trendsetter in Louisiana.
“The big decision makers, for the most part, don’t quite see or understand how large eSports is and is going to be, and are maybe apprehensive in taking that leap to really back the club’s growth,” Lafleur said.
Some major universities that have already given varsity status to their eSports programs include the University of California-Irvine and the University of Missouri.
Ian Madray, the co-founder and first president of the Ragin’ Cajuns eSports organization said that they are using these models to present their hopes of creating a scholarship program to UL Lafayette.
“UC-Irvine has their model laid out, not explicitly, but you can see where their success is coming from,” Madray said. “That’s something that we would like to replicate as well over here, but it just has to make sense for all of the parties involved, especially for UL and then for us.”
Lafleur described the major change for students in the eSports program if UL Lafayette would make it a varsity sport. Because the Ragin’ Cajuns eSports is designated as a recreational club sport, they have a budget that allows players to travel to different events. However, varsity programs give out scholarships, making those colleges more enticing to prospective students interested in eSports.
“The main difference is on the student side,” Lafleur said. “Students would be eligible for full scholarships if the university would want to do that. That’s the big draw of other universities that offer varsity programs. They offer at least partial scholarships to their players.”
Madray, a current adviser for the organization, said that a lot of what UL Lafayette does will depend on what other state colleges do.
“I think it’s mainly seeing what Louisiana does in a way,” Madray said. “You have what LSU does: LSU has a club sport as well and they’ve done such a great job over there. The New Orleans schools are looking into doing varsity programs.”
“It’s a matter of looking at what your peers are doing locally at first, and then branching out and putting yourself into the national conversation.”
Madray described the major difference between eSports and other varsity athletics that UL Lafayette already has.
“When you look at traditional sports, nobody really owns the game of football, basketball or soccer inherently,” he said. “If you put it in comparison to Rocket League, Overwatch or League of Legends, they’re owned by the publisher. In reality, it’s all decentralized.”
Because of this, Madray believes that it is unlikely that eSports will be placed alongside other sports under the NCAA.
Members of the Ragin’ Cajuns eSports have met with university officials to discuss the serious potential of turning their club sport into a varsity with scholarships for students. He said their meetings with UL-Lafayette President Dr. E. Joseph Savoie have been mutually beneficial, and he expects change to happen soon.
“They’re convinced, it’s just a matter of figuring out what that tipping point is,” Madray said. “It’s a matter of getting the eyes on the program and just making sure that it makes sense for the university.”
Lafleur said that there are multiple ways the university can assist the growth of the eSports program. Scheduling gaming tournaments and inviting other colleges across the country to come to Lafayette to compete was one idea.
“I think it would be absolutely phenomenal to be able to host an event,” Lafleur said. “If we get to that point, I feel like that would be that big step where the university itself would step in and help put on this event because they recognize the potential.”
Madray echoed Lafleur’s sentiments. UL Lafayette hosted a small gaming tournament on campus in the fall semester of 2018 and 2019 called SwampLAN.
“We have wanted to do tournaments for a while,” Madray said. “We ran SwampLAN 2018 and were able to get 150 people with two weeks of advertisement and no marketing budget at all.”
Lafleur believes that UL Lafayette can become a trendsetter in Louisiana by creating scholarship opportunities for eSports, but the university has to help the Ragin’ Cajuns eSports grow in order to do so.
“There’s only so much that we, as a student club, can do,” Lafleur said. “At some point, we need the university to step in in a bigger way and hold us up to say this isn’t just a student club: it’s a bigger part of the future.”