By Nathan Cardillo

Point Park Valorant Team playing against Akron University, Summer 2021

Christopher Gaul lives out a dream that most people could only imagine a reality.

As the head coach for the Point Park University Esports program for the past year and a half, he gets to play video games for a paycheck. He also has given the opportunity to students through scholarships and experience from a rapidly growing industry.

“Being able to work with students and see students sort of grow and develop as students’ athletes and as adult human beings, that’s always… the most rewarding part for me as a director and a coach,” Gaul said.

Formed in the fall of 2020, compared to other programs that began years ago at Point Park, the esports program has tons of room to grow. When it comes to the program’s growth, Gaul said he hopes for the program to not only grow in student numbers, but also to up the levels of support for the students involved, both financially through scholarships and through industry experience.

As a member of the athletic board, Gaul said, “I’m expected to recruit so many students to join the program every year, and I’m given scholarships to help facilitate that.”

But to Gaul, scholarships play a more important role than just a tool for recruitment: They act as a sort of thank you for giving him and the program their time and resources.

“It feels like if you’re going to be giving time to me, I need to be giving something back to you,” he said.

In terms of the amount given in a scholarship, Gaul said, “Pretty much all the criteria for how large your scholarship is…would depend upon what you can bring to the program and how much work you’re willing to put into the program.”

Simply, all a student must do is show effort and dedication for the program and the scholarship is theirs. But, with great reward comes a greater expectation from the student. If what the student says they can offer the program turns out to be false, that student can lose a portion of that scholarship and even lose it in full.

Noah Knerr, Summer 2021

Noah Knerr, 21, a senior and member of the Point Park Valorant team, recently became a varsity member of the program this semester, after his team of five players placed third out of 77 universities in the Collegiate StarLeague.

Scholarships are only given to new members of the university, Knerr said, and not to existing students. He does not have one.

Still, the lack of scholarship does not hinder Knerr’s motivation to continue playing for the Pioneers. Knerr said the “scholarship was never my end goal.” He said, “Sure, it would be great, just that it would help financially…but a scholarship has no change in my motivation towards wanting to play or not. I just enjoyed competing in video games.”

Brett Powers, 18, a freshman majoring in broadcast production at Point Park, recently joined the Esports program as a caster. He said, “I was in class, and I was on my phone… and I read the email [from Coach Gaul] and responded very quickly because… it sounded like a good opportunity for some experience with my career path.”

Powers has a strong interest in a career as a voice actor. As a caster for the Rocket League Esport at Point Park, it gives him experience in the field of broadcasting and voice acting.

Although Powers “was going either way” to Point Park, the idea of a scholarship and career experience through video games was the final selling point for his application to Point Park.

The growth of the esports industry is inevitable, according to industry data. The statistics website Statista said the industry gains nearly 20 million dedicated viewers each year and is projected to gain 50% in revenue by 2024.

“We have built out an amazing Esports gaming center and are exploring a certificate in Esports,” said Steve Tanzilli, dean of the Rowland School of Business. Tanzilli embraced the industry’s growth for students at the university and for gamers in the Pittsburgh area when in 2019, he and Point Park hosted the first major esports tournament in Pittsburgh, known as The Steel City Showdown.

The event, which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and which raised money for AbleGamers Charity, shows that the industry is not just about video games anymore, he said. Other major companies are also beginning to realize the growth of esports. Crypto currency exchange company, FTX, formed a partnership worth $210 million with mutli-esport organization TSM (TeamSoloMid). The only requirement from TSM was the addition of FTX in their brand’s name.

Since the mid 2010s, colleges have become a major way for players to further enhance their esports experiences, as the number and value of scholarships in college Esports programs have increased nearly 600% between 2015 and 2019, according to AthleticDirectorU.