For the past decade, Shaun Byrne has been a veteran in the collegiate scene. In 2017, he was asked by St. Clair College to create and manage their varsity eSports program, which was in the top-20 in North America and was the best in Canada.
In June, St. Clair announced the construction of the largest eSports facility in Canada, which should be ready in 2022. Shaun Byrne agreed to talk with Fabrice Samedy about this project and what it represents for the growth of eSports in the country.
What was the reason behind the construction of the complex?
In 2017, we launched our program with fairly small, but functional facilities. We had quickly outgrown these facilities and were in need of more space to continue growing our programs.
What can you tell me about the eSports complex that will be built at your university?
The eSports complex will be approximately 15,000 square feet and located in the main building at the St. Clair College South Campus. It will be a much-needed addition as we have outgrown our original 750-square foot varsity training room and 1,000-square foot eSports classroom.
The new complex will include training facilities for the varsity teams, a stage and broadcasting facilities for producing Twitch and YouTube content, open gaming facilities for use by the general student population on campus, a new classroom with break-out broadcasting labs, dedicated VR rooms, and flexible event space. It will be the largest eSports facility open to the public in Canada.
What are you looking to accomplish with this complex?
It has always been our intent to have our facilities open to the public in addition to the students at St. Clair. We want to invite the community into our facilities to help grow the eSports industry locally. With our older facilities, this was not possible, but now we will be able to explore new types of engagements, like elementary and high school level tournaments, for example. Overall, we intend on the new facilities being a hub for eSports in Southwestern Ontario.
How important was it to have a complex? Why?
Our programs have been very successful over the last few years, but we have simply run out of space. This new complex is essential for us to continue to grow. Unfortunately, we have had to turn students away due to lack of space, but we should be able to offer opportunities to quite a few more students now.
Can we say that with this news, St. Clair is all in on eSports? Do you believe in eSports as much as people believe in more traditional sports? Why?
Absolutely. No other post-secondary institution in Canada supports eSports to the level that St. Clair College does, and I do not think anyone would debate that. eSports is the future of entertainment.
Ask a millennial or post-millennial to talk about themselves, and you’re just as likely, if not more likely, to hear them mention eSports than traditional sports. Viewership and participation in eSports has grown to rival traditional sports, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
What are your thoughts on the eSports scene in Canada?
The pro-level of eSports in Canada is very strong with multiple top-tier, pro-level teams and a high level of investment. Unfortunately, the lower levels, including collegiate, high school, and amateur eSports, are much less developed.
We are beginning to see more post-secondary institutions launch eSports programs, but the adoption in Canada has been quite a bit slower than in the US. There is quite a bit of debate as to why this is. Ultimately though, the future is looking very bright for eSports, and it seems very likely that within the next five to ten years most, every school in Canada will have eSports programs of their own.
How important is it to develop the collegiate scene here in Canada? Why?
In the 1980s, sports management programs popped up and spread throughout North America. This was to answer the problem that a booming professional sports landscape was seeing with a lack of qualified individuals to fill jobs. It looks like a similar phenomenon is going to happen with eSports. The difference is that pro-level eSports is growing at a much faster pace than traditional sports did.
Sports like baseball, basketball, and football grew over the course of 50-plus and sometimes almost 100 years. The eSports boom has only started within the last ten or so years. In that short amount of time, we’re seeing participation and viewership levels surpass traditional sports.
A labour shortage is probably coming, and the collegiate scene can be the space where the next generation of not just players, but also operations managers, coaches, broadcasters, and a plethora of other talented individuals can hone their skills.
Do you wish more schools had the same thing as St. Clair?
I have had meetings with many schools across Canada in the last few years looking to start programs. I have no problem sharing my insights and helping them grow. I get excited every time I see a new program get announced because it allows for better rivalries and storylines to be built around our competition.