The Emergence of eSports in The Big Easy

eSports team competing on computers

It’s not the first thing you think of when it comes to sports and entertainment here in New Orleans, but 2022 has brought about the emergence of eSports in Louisiana.

eSports – aka electronic sports – is the competitive arm of video gaming, taking place across organised, professional competitions and tournaments. The market has surged in popularity across the globe, and now it’s time for The Big Easy to get in on the action following a series of local developments that are boosting the profile of pro-gaming in the city.

The Gaming Industry is on the Rise 

The gaming industry as a whole has, of course, transformed hugely over the past decade. What was once a niche market is now a global multi-billion-dollar industry, encompassing diverse games and gaming platforms. No longer tied to physical titles and gaming consoles, modern gamers choose from a vast array of gaming experiences to play online, from unique fishing-themed slots games to massively multiplayer action/adventure titles, mobile gaming apps and even Virtual Reality games.

More than just a casual hobby, gaming is now well and truly part of mainstream pop culture and is proving to be an attractive market for investment and development amongst top brands from across a multitude of industries. It’s eSports, however, that is currently drawing the biggest level of interest, both in terms of audience numbers and investment and development from education and sporting institutions.

The UNO’s eSports League 

Louisiana may not currently be the center of a buzzing eSports scene that could rival that of South Korea, however, eSports is nevertheless emerging right here in New Orleans thanks to new developments at the University of New Orleans.

The academic institution in Lake Terrace Oaks has officially launched an eSports program complete with an on-campus eSports Café. Recognising that current and future students will have a keen interest in playing video games in a competitive environment, the university plans to roll out several levels of competition, including intramural, club and varsity teams. The dedicated facility, meanwhile, is fully equipped with PCs as well as the latest next-gen consoles: PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

The UNO intramural eSports league was established in October 2021 and there are plans in place to hire a professional eSports head coach to act as manager for club and varsity teams. The goal, according to vice president for athletics and recreation, Tim Duncan, is to create a “thriving community of gamers among students, faculty and staff”. Eventually, the UNO campus will host varsity and club tournaments and serve as a hub for competitive gaming throughout the Louisiana region.

eSports on the Football Field 

Soccer stadium on sunny day

It’s not just the UNO that’s making strides in developing eSports in the region, as the Southwestern Athletic Conference has made eSports a key element of its new future focus for New Orleans and Louisiana.

The Bayou Classic made a triumphant return to The Superdome last fall, including that memorable matchup between HBCU heavyweights Grambling State University and Southern University. With it came huge facilitation from the SWAC thanks to its new partnership with General Motors (GM).

The new deal will see GM supporting the SWAC throughout multiple touchpoints, including championship events and eSports scholarships for gaming labs. New Orleans is yet to produce an eSports superstar like Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok or Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen, but this new opportunity will be crucial for identifying and developing the eSports stars of tomorrow.

eSports Offers Economic Benefits

As discussed above, eSports is a highly lucrative segment of the gaming industry and its ongoing development in the region only serves to benefit on an economic basis. Not only will it attract investment and partnerships from the high-profile brands keen to expand into this digital sphere, but it’s also tied into the development of another lucrative industry here in New Orleans – sports wagering.

With a new era of sports betting well underway here in the city, the gaming generation will be looking for opportunities to wager on the disciplines that interest them, namely, eSports. Bookmakers have already started offering eSports betting markets across the US, with tournaments like the League of Legends World Championship pulling in a substantial betting handle in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. It’s only a matter of time before bookmakers in Louisiana want a slice of the action too.

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