Peacocks leveling up: Introducing PCA&D’s Esports Team

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Friday, February 12th, 2021

Every good video game tells a story. 

Maybe it’s the tale of a quest. Maybe it’s the challenge of championship battle. Or maybe it’s the vision of a future you’re playing to build and defend — or even the future of video games that connect to education, healthcare, and social justice?

At Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, that story of gaming is still being written. The College’s esports team is just at its beginning, at the part where everyone in the story is still preparing to head out on their quest, to head into battle, to build that future. And this semester, they join the fast-growing network of 300-plus college-level esports teams that compete with other student gamers. 

It’s a rapidly growing field of employment, too, with job opportunities for creative minds. According to a report from Goldman Sachs, the esports industry has a projected total value of nearly $3 billion by next year — up from $655 million just four years ago. 

PCA&D aims to be one of the first professional arts colleges in the nation, and the first in Pennsylvania, with a competitive esports team. The College’s program is being built around new and existing academic concentrations, setting up students for careers in fields like esports management, entrepreneurship, game development and design, game art, and art direction. Envisioned as a co-curricular activity, the program is being developed not only to integrate with existing departments, such as Animation & Game Art, but also to mesh with initiatives such as PCA&D’s new Esports Management minor, launched in Spring 2021. 

“As the esports team links game art and esports majors and minors, and intersects with our new curriculum for business, marketing, and live and virtual experience design, the PCA&D Esports Team is an important aspect of the College’s strategic plan,” says Michael Molla, President of Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. “We envision building new pathways for students and graduates to emerging careers that will be reliant on artists, designers, and creatives.”

This past fall, PCA&D’s first Esports Scholarships were awarded to five students. This Spring sees the official launch of the College’s esports teams, the Peacocks, competing against other colleges and universities in League of Legends and Overwatch. The team’s mascot, a fierce and confident peacock, is the symbol of the bold and innovative spirit of the PCA&D student. An initial Game Lab/studio space for the teams’ practices, competitions, and gaming major classes has been outfitted on the campus’s first floor, opening up to passersby on Prince Street who can take in the action of the team and gaming curriculum. 

And yet at its core, and as much as possible, the PCA&D Esports Team’s origin story is still being written by the students themselves. 

mascot logo for PCA&D Esports -- the GamebirdsIn the beginning, there was just a “bare-bones” group of PCA&D students who loved gaming and formed the Competitive Gaming Club to play each other. 

Why gaming? 

“It creates community and creates a way to find people who have similar interests — bonding,” says League of Legends team member Alex Zhao ’21, Illustration. “The big thing is the ability to communicate (and build) personal connection.” 

It’s a challenge, says Aeri Tulayan, another League of Legends team member. The senior Graphic Design major says esports “is very mental-heavy … You hone in a lot on various skills such as mental fortitude, communication and teamwork, strategic thinking, performing under pressure.”

“Depending on the game you’re playing, (it) can teach you different things,” says Overwatch team member Sky Cordiano, an Animation & Game Art sophomore. “So, in an educational sense,” she adds, “there’s really no limit.”

Another bonus? Gaming, by its very nature, is inclusive. It’s diverse. Anyone can play, and there are no inherent requirements. You don’t have to be able to run a 4.4 40-yard dash, like in football (but maybe you can, and still play esports), or hurl a 90-mph fastball (but if you can, awesome — now grab your controller and log in!). Players also cite improvement in the “soft skills” that so many employers say they seek, but that cannot be “taught” in a traditional sense: Collaboration. Teamwork. The ability to plan strategically, and react decisively. 

“I learn more about team-building,” says Brendan Adams ’21, Illustration. “Maybe (that’s) something people don’t always think about from the get-go.” Gaming, Adams says, also has improved his communication skills. “You have to share information with your teammates constantly and then act on that information,” Adams says. “This can be vital in-game, and a very helpful and good skill to have in real life.”

It’s experiential learning — learning by doing — and, when paired with traditional classroom work that trains the creative mind, it’s a potent combination that is unique to the College. 

To keep that “gaming as learning” focus, PCA&D is taking as much direction as possible from team members as the program launches. So about a year and a half ago when members of that Competitive Gaming Club (CGC) wanted to discuss taking esports at PCA&D a step further, they decided to form an esports committee and ask the College for support. 

Weaving in the College’s curricular and creative goals with competitive gaming enthusiasts for PCA&D was a natural fit, says Dean of Students Jessica Edonick.  “PCA&D students have this incredible passion for world-building, character design, and creating environments in which individuals get to feel and experience their vision. Combining their love of competitive gaming and professional interests as artists and designers needed to happen,” Edonick says. The College developed a pan-institutional team with students at the center and esports specialist Monica Miller guiding the way. The goal was to explore and craft a competitive esports team with a foundation of curricular and career endeavors. 

CGC members chose the games League of Legends and Overwatch as their focus, while Miller and the PCA&D team developed the structure for try-outs, awarding scholarships, and team play as the college headed into the fall term during a pandemic. 

The fullness of that transition, from club play to the College’s first intercollegiate, competitive team, is now in sight. A newly dedicated aesthetics laboratory is now the temporary home of the Esports team where they will play together in small, socially distant team practices and scrimmages with other schools on laptops and towers designed for esports play. The team is also in the process of joining the Collegiate Sports Management Group, part of the Eastern College Athletic Conference that oversees collegiate esports. It joins 100 other colleges and universities on the East Coast which are part of this competitive conference.  

Team jerseys also are here, a bold black-and-white peacock slashed by a bolt of yellow. They’re designed by team member Chase Rusinko, a junior Graphic Design major and a founding member of the CGC that set this esports program in motion. Team members have been given full creative freedom to create a highlight/sizzle reel of team play to help promote their launch, and both League of Legends and Overwatch teammates are practicing regularly.

“I envision our students and alumni not only will be the makers of games, but talented players, working within a new and growing industry,” President Molla says. “PCA&D students will be leaders who are accomplished in playing, making, and working in esports and the game industry.”

The College community can catch PCA&D’s Esports Team at a number of events. Members of the PCA&D community should check their This Week newsletters for more details!

  • Feb. 13, Jackbox Game Night, 5:30-8 pm 
  • Feb. 25, Emote Discord Critique session, 5:30-7 pm
  • Feb. 27, Skribbl.io game night, 5:30-8 pm