Competitive sports provide Christian higher learning institutions with another platform for ministry. But how can a school launch a team in any sporting event when the overall on-campus enrollment is under 100 due to the impact of COVID-19?
That dilemma faced J. David Arnett, president of Northpoint Bible College & Graduate School https://northpoint.edu, a 99-year-old Assemblies of God institution in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Arnett, 69, charged Northpoint’s dean of students Michael R. Scott to create and direct an Esports team as the first sport in the college’s new athletic program. Northpoint equipped rooms with computers, monitors, and accessories to help with its Esports team and gaming outreach.
“He saw Esports could benefit students, not just a fun thing to do, but as another ministry training opportunity,” Scott says of Arnett. “Large and small schools can field an Esports team.”
In 2019, an industry report noted that the world’s number of active gamers topped 2.5 billion.
“We want to train people to reach one of the biggest unreached people groups,” Scott says. “Since we’re a ministry school, our niche is that our students will learn to share the gospel with an online gaming platform.”
The sports center includes seven new gaming computers with 24-inch curved monitors, an Esports lounge, and an 80-inch monitor with Nintendo Switch and PlayStation5 attached. The equipment is available daily to all Northpoint students.
Scott, though a relatively youthful 32, wasn’t a competitive gamer and had never played online. With a dozen gaming students — more than 10% of Northpoint’s on-campus student body and a quarter of them women — Scott tapped Trever Primus (a pastoral ministries major) and Joe Mora (studying worship ministry) as captains. Proficient in Overwatch, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros, the two students coach the team, with its freshly minted Eagles mascot.
The school joined the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the nation’s largest college Esports league, in which giant public state schools don’t necessarily hold a competitive edge over smaller schools. The team finished a respectable 1-5 in its first competitive season last fall.
“We don’t recruit for sports, we recruit pastors who happen to play Esports,” Scott says. In the fall, Northpoint will begin “club level” competition against other colleges in the region in golf, cross country, basketball, and volleyball.
Other Assemblies of God schools, including North Central University and Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) are joining Northpoint in fielding Esports teams. Scott envisions holding an AG Esports tournament.
When SAGU in Waxahachie, Texas, launched its Esports program last fall, coach David Tipps, expected around a dozen students to play around a dozen games. In the current semester, 35 are enrolled. While Tipps handles the business end, history major Zach Wilkey, 23, manages player coaching and competition. Like Northpoint, SAGU is a NACE member school.
Tipps, who directs SAGU’s information technology department, believes Christian input can help redeem internet culture, which often thrives on anonymous critical comments. Consequences of bad behavior such as swearing and personal attacks are virtual. Being kicked off a server or blocked from play is a “time out” of sorts.
“It breeds a negative culture inside people,” says Tipps, 36. “Christian universities using Esports are able to speak into that world and be a light.”
Esports brings revenue possibilities as well. Refresh LED, owned by Central Bible College graduate Josh Dominguez, is a corporate sponsor of Northpoint’s program.
Tipps describes several players on SAGU’s team as “crazy good.” Wilkey notes that at least four SAGU players have been offered scholarships to secular universities and one was extended a spot on a pro Esports team. All have turned down the offers.
“Rather than making money, they’re more committed to the call of God on their life as a worship leader or a youth pastor,” Wilkey says.
To keep players’ focus on greater things, they’re on their honor to practice no more than four hours per day.
“Our guys are playing, working, going to school, doing their ministries, leading events on campus, and praying for people,” Wilkey says.