DALLAS – Dozens of first-year college students from Paul Quinn College eagerly walked through the Mavs Gaming Hub doors Friday with a peek into the future.

They’re among some of the first students in North Texas that might be able to earn an esports degree in the coming months or years.

Paul Quinn College is in the early stages of creating a newly accredited program that is, well — changing the game — with financial models predicting esports to become one of the most lucrative markets on the planet. For this reason, many colleges and universities nationwide are racing to create Bachelor of Science degrees in Esports, and Paul Quinn College might be next.

Tray Thompson oversees community outreach with Mavs Gaming, and last year he reached out to the esports program at the college to create an event together. Paul Quinn College is the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in North Texas, and Thompson thought Black History Month would be a perfect time.

Eventually the Mavs decided to host a Black to Esports virtual panel with Black male and female esports influencers. Paul Quinn College students – who were mostly freshmen – arrived at the Mavs Gaming Hub last Friday (Feb. 25) to watch the virtual event on the big screens.

The gamers also received catered lunches provided by Smokey John’s, a black-owned home cooking restaurant that has served the heart of Dallas for over 40 years. Smokey John’s even took time to outfit each box with Black History Month stickers and ribbons to celebrate the special time.

“Ultimately, with the pandemic still going on, I wanted to create an intimate impact but also a virtual impact,” Thompson said. “Paul Quinn College is reconfiguring their esports program directly through their accredited degrees, so they’re still in the infant stages of figuring out the exact direction. We’re merely just coming in to assist them and continue to show support with what they’re doing. We also want to allow the students to see what the future can look like if they invest in esports and do it right at their university and campus.”

The timing is perfect because the billion-dollar gaming industry is considered one of the fastest-growing sports among colleges nationwide, and the Mavs are thrilled to partner with Paul Quinn College. Between panel discussions, the students also had plenty of time to pick up the sticks under the bright lights of the Mavs’ state-of-the-art gaming pavilion that’s home to Mavs Gaming. The hub features a gaming arena that is nearly 5,000 square feet, with a 35-foot gaming room.

Simply put – it’s a player’s paradise.

Many of the Paul Quinn gamers didn’t even realize that right behind them, tucked behind a wall, stood the Mavs Gaming executive offices. Inside there, front office staff tirelessly worked away to create a 2022 NBA 2K League Draft war room.

Some of the same students who attended the event might someday have an office in that very spot.

“Creating opportunities is the goal,” Thompson said.

“When they walk in a space like this, they can’t help but smile and look around,” he added.

Black to Esports panelists included Mavs’ Gaming head coach LT Fairley and former Mavs Gaming Esports Content Manager, Jourdan Kerl, who continues to break barriers for women in esports. She is now a senior manager of talent and activations at Gen.G.

While at Northwestern, she started a series called “On The Sticks” from her studio apartment. From there, her career skyrocketed, and she went on to cover the first NBA 2K League Draft, reported with ESPN Esports and later joined the Mavs. She’s been featured on the front page of Twitch for Black History Month and is among one of the first Black women to scale the wall and join the gaming community.

“When I first started, there were people who told me that as a woman of color, I wouldn’t succeed because there are so few women in esports that look like me,” Kerl said.

“I am proud that I took a chance on myself at each step of the way. There are still many doubters about women having success in sports and gaming, but I don’t really think about that. I focus on my family and those people that genuinely support my vision for my life.”

Fairley is his own success story as a Black man growing up in small-town Mississippi. He was a high school football star who later joined the Navy and ultimately chased after his esports passion and became the second coach in Mavs Gaming history. Fairley took the reins of the Mavericks’ affiliate team for the second season of the NBA 2K League. He’s now entering his fourth season leading the Mavs. He also pours a significant amount of time teaching his athletes how to lead on and off the court.

Dallas is already making history as one of the only sports teams globally with a Black CEO (Cynt Marshall), general manager (Nico Harrison), assistant general manager (Michael Finley), head coach (Jason Kidd) and gaming head coach (Fairley).

These men and women have lit a torch for future young Black leaders to also follow their dreams and reach their full potential.

Each February, the Dallas Mavericks join other NBA teams around the country to celebrate Black History Month and support the ongoing pursuit of racial justice, equality, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and community.

Black history is a year-around effort for the Mavericks and Black to Esports is an extension of the franchise’s overall commitment to elevating the experiences and perspectives of Black players, coaches, employees, and the greater community.

Ivy Awino, better known as DJ Poison Ivy to Dallas Mavericks fans, hosted the Black to Esports panel. She’s another pioneer who has shattered countless glass ceilings.

She started as a Mavs’ ball girl and later became the first female DJ in franchise history. She continues to break barriers as a Black woman in an industry dominated by men, and she’s blossomed on the national scene. Awino was named to the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Class of 2020 list with other superstar athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Breanna Stewart, and Paul George. She was one of 11 women featured and the only DJ.

Now she is dedicated to sharing her wealth of knowledge and heart with the future generation. Ivy’s and Kerl’s stories, along with Fairley’s, are paving the way for Black men and women in an esports industry that continues to lack representation among people of color. The trio shared various obstacles they endured during their careers and encouraged them to flourish in whatever career paths they choose. Most of all, they reiterated the importance of Black representation in esports.

Thompson also echoed their sentiments and said, “Black representation is important because all representation is important.”

He said Mavs Gaming is deeply intentional about diversity and inclusion for people of color. He hopes events like these will ultimately create a pipeline for Black men and women to change the entire landscape of the esports industry.

“You can’t have a table without everything,” Thompson explained. “I feel with the divides currently happening in the country, this is one subtle way to highlight Black History Month. We also get to set the table and show that unity is still the foundation of everything that we do here.”

Paul Quinn College is the nation’s first urban work college, a federally recognized school where students are required to hold down jobs and have their professional performance incorporated into their academic studies. It is designed to be an affordable and flexible alternative to traditional universities.

Last year, the Mavs announced a new partnership and $500K investment in Paul Quinn College.

The partnership grew out of a “meeting of the minds” with Dr. Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall and Mavs governor Mark Cuban. As part of the Mavs Take ACTION! Plan, the Mavs and Paul Quinn look to create a new leadership program to support a pipeline of talent for tomorrow’s leaders and career readiness for HBCU students.

The Black to Esports panel is another chance for the Mavs to spotlight competitive gaming to a new generation. Many students hope to follow a career in esports, but others enjoy camaraderie and competition on the sticks.

The pandemic is one primary reason the already growing esports community ultimately exploded to new heights the last three years. In fact, over 400 million new gamers got, well, in the game.

Major corporations and investment immediately saw the growth and joined the craze, thus creating an entire new career industry with endless potential in programming, management, content creation and sales. This means huge money-making potential in the future for students like the Paul Quinn College student gamers who might eventually seek a degree in the field.

The NBA 2K League also soared during this time. The league’s viewership in 2020 increased by 69% on Twitch.

After seeing the growth of the gaming community over the last three years, colleges around the country have raced to create degrees and accredited esports programs to offer potential students.

Those seeking college esports degrees will be able to turn their passions into legit careers. They’ll also create lifelong friendships and join an inclusive esports family that hopes to bridge communities and unify people – regardless of race.

“Paul Quinn College has a great esports director named Jason Moore who did an excellent job of setting the table for them,” Thompson said. “It’s about unity. It’s about bringing people together with the differences that the world has created. These programs with Mavs Gaming are focused on showing love and unity. It shows oneness. Ultimately, this program is about creating oneness, whether it’s celebrating the military, honoring Women’s History Month, or other events. It’s all about coming together for something much greater than us.”