The arenas where they play are elaborate computer labs and their spectators are mostly virtual, but more and more colleges and universities are making sanctioned esports teams an important part of their campuses. Esports’ popularity is growing: on college campuses and nationwide.
In July of 2016, seven colleges had official varsity esports programs. It’s a little over a year later, and there are almost five times as many. Thirty-four schools now have varsity esports programs, and there are predictions that as many as 50 to 60 schools will sponsor an esports team by the next academic year.
If you’re wondering what a varsity esports program looks like, picture most any other sports program: full-time coaches, funding from the school, donations, and, most importantly, scholarships.
Many of these schools also accept corporate sponsorships. For example, UC-Irvine, which is the only self-sufficient collegiate esports program, has sponsorship opportunities that range from $25,000 to $100,000.
These varsity teams then train; upholding stringent practice schedules that often occupy a great deal of the students’ time, not unlike a typical athlete’s routine. Finally, competitions take place against other institutions featuring some of the nation’s most popular strategy and battle video games.
Many of these competitions stream on Twitch, an online broadcast service, to thousands of spectators. The 2016 esports finals had more than 90 million viewers.
In addition to the officially sanctioned esports teams, there are also informal, school-approved clubs on colleges and universities across the world. Tespa is probably the largest organization, with more than 65,000 members and 220 chapters at more than 1,200 universities.
While the appeal of playing video games on scholarship is undeniable, many schools are taking it a step further and tying esports teams into academics. For example, the University of Washington’s Critical Gaming Project helps to develop new courses and research studies dedicated wholly to video games. The group consists of undergrads, grad students, and professors, and they have succeeded in creating classes like “Bioshock: Cyborg Morality and Posthuman Choice” and “Satan’s Game: The Cultural Roots and Impact of Dungeons and Dragons.”
This thinking is extending into the varsity programs, as well. Georgia State University, whose varsity program is less than a year old, is already exploring ways that esports can help prepare students for life after the university, including game development, coaching, student management, broadcasting, production, and marketing.
“The skills developed by esports-interested students are the very skills most needed for success in the 21st century economy, including collaborative soft skills and computer coding,” said David Cheshier, director of the Georgia State Creative Media Industries Institute, in a written statement to Forbes. “We see this initiative as building essential links to emerging creative careers in animation, 3D and immersive world creation, and other media industries.”
Colleges are still figuring out how esports incorporate into their schools’ structure. In fact, the programs can look very different from campus to campus. Some institutions consider the teams to be under university athletics, while others categorize it with student affairs, and still others consider it to be an academic endeavor. It is highly likely that, as these programs continue to grow, this issue will be decided in a court of law, along with possibly making the programs compliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination.
College esports have come a long way since Robert Morris University Illinois started the first varsity program way back in 2014. If you’re interested in sponsoring or hosting a burgeoning collegiate esports team or tournament, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005. Our vision can bring game to your esports sponsorships.