MCLA Athletics Department Launches Esports Program

The MCLA Athletics Department has launched the first Varsity Esports Program for the Spring 2024 semester. Team members will be able to compete at the collegiate conference and national level by fall under Head Coach Justin MacDowell who has over 20 years of experience in online team-based video games.

Esports is a term used to describe live broadcasted video game competitions where teams of three to six players work together to outmaneuver their opponent. Esports events have risen in popularity with the ability to stream on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, Facebook Gaming, and Discord. Come fall, the Esports team will be able to compete in the National Esports Collegiate Conference (NECC), which includes 17 other Massachusetts colleges and universities and hundreds across the country competing at all levels.

The discussion around building the program started before the pandemic, said Laura Mooney, MCLA assistant dean of athletics & recreation. MCLA will begin play with Valorant, which describes itself as a 5v5 character-based tactical shooter that was first released to the public in 2020. The game is offered for free download from the developer Riot Games' website, which means the threshold to begin play is low for most gamers and reflected in the sheer number of players the game sees daily.

Other games that MCLA could compete in in the future include League of Legends, Rocket League, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Counter-Strike 2.

“It’s been something that’s been growing exponentially across the country in college settings,” she said. “When we did the [campus center] renovation project, it was clear that after we finished these rooms we could utilize them for an esports lounge.”

ESport student gaming at desktop computer

The lounge is outfitted with eight esports-grade Alienware PCs on a dedicated server to ensure efficient gameplay. Outside of team practices, students can access the lounge at any time with a door access code and utilize the MCLA Discord server, which MacDowell said has a growing number of members.

The Esports program has gained momentum over the last two semesters with practice sessions evolving from one to four times per week.

“It’s really been about building the team up and getting ready for that level of competition.

Most players are casual players and the idea of going further has been really exciting for them,” he said.

A Forbes article from 2020 noted "that students who are interested in Esports have a higher tendency to be academic achievers and interested in high-paying, STEM fields valued by employers. Michael Sherman, Riot Games' director of collegiate Esports, told SportTechie that 62 percent of the players on collegiate League of Legends teams in 2018 were STEM majors."

“One of the reasons we wanted to develop Esports is to get students out of their rooms and do something together in a team environment and create a different and new affinity group,” Mooney said. “It’s about retention and also recruitment for prospective students.”

When MacDowell sees a campus tour pass his office, he makes sure prospective students get to visit the lounge. He recently experienced a tour interaction where the prospective student showed enthusiasm once they learned about the Valorant team.

“A lot of schools are offering Esports and it’s something we have to compete with. It’s about attractiveness,” MacDowell said.

Students interested in being recruited to MCLA Esports or have questions should email or visit for more information. The Esports lounge is located on the second floor of the Trailblazer Fitness Center across from the indoor track.