This fall, Lakeland Community College will be adding a new varsity sport to its athletic department. A varsity level Lakers esports team will begin competing in the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports (NJCAAE) league during the fall 2022 season.
Esports is organized virtual gaming in which individuals or teams compete against each other in tournament style play. Popular games included in the NJCAAE league include titles such as: Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., Fortnite, Rocket League, FIFA and NBA2k22. Over the last few years, interest in esports has expanded immensely across the country. Hundreds of high schools as well as two- and four-year colleges are now offering esports scholarships and transfer opportunities.
The NJCAAE, founded in 2019, is the only national esports association exclusively for two-year colleges. After just five semesters of competition, 125 schools from all regions of the United States have joined the league, making esports the fastest growing sport on college campuses.
The idea to introduce an esports team first came to Lakeland’s Director for Athletics, Scott Barlow, in early 2020. After gaining support from college administration and securing funding to launch the program, he can make it a reality.
“We started the initial discussions of an esports team in spring 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed our timeline back a bit, with everything going virtual, it also showed us that we are capable of hosting a team and tournaments on campus from a technology standpoint,” shared Barlow. “This also allowed us time to speak with students and really garner up interest in the program.”
The Laker’s esports team currently has 15 athletes on the roster for the fall 2022 semester and there is room to add more students as interest grows. Esports will be recognized as a varsity sport, meaning students will need to be enrolled full-time and will have to meet academic eligibility standards to compete. The Lakeland esports team will be under the direction of head coach Chad Jordan, who also works as a student success navigator in Lakeland’s Learning Center.
Esports will become the eighth organized sport - and the only coed sport - to be offered by Lakeland. In addition to being a varsity sport, there are plans to create an intramural club on campus. Construction of an esports “arena” is in the final stages. The space will be used by both the varsity team and the intramural club.
“We hope the intramural club can serve as a pipeline for the varsity team. Students may not meet the enrollment or academic eligibility for the varsity team, but can still participate in the club on campus,” explained Jordan. “Meanwhile if a student is interested in competing at a higher level, we can work on developing their skills and meeting eligibility requirements to eventually joining the varsity team.”
Many colleges across the nation have seen success with esports programs, not only from a competitive aspect but from scholarships for recruitment and developing new degree and certificate programs.
By introducing esports at the varsity level, Lakeland’s athletic department is already able to offer scholarship opportunities for student athletes this inaugural season, and Barlow expects more offerings to come from the program in the future.
“Launching the team is really just the first step here at Lakeland, there is a lot of potential to grow the program into more than just a varsity sport,” Barlow explains. “Schools across the country have taken the interest and success of esports on campus and created academic programs for students, from esports management degrees to information technology & computer science degrees, there are many different aspects of the game that come into play and other opportunities to consider offering our students.”
The Lakers esports team will begin competition during the fall 2022 semester, games and tournaments will be live streamed so audiences can watch remotely.
Any current or prospective Lakeland student who would like to learn more about esports can contact head coach Chad Jordan firstname.lastname@example.org or athletic director Scott Barlow email@example.com.