The University of California, Irvine is not typically the first college that comes to mind when one thinks “sports school.” It doesn’t have a football team, and 72% of its students identify as video gamers — however, UC Irvine is actually at the forefront of the newest trend in collegiate sports. In September 2016, it became the first public university to open an esports arena and offer scholarships to eligible top-notch gamers, and it won’t be long before a slew of other universities follow its lead.
Esports are organized multiplayer video game competitions. The most popular games include League of Legends, Overwatch, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Players interact with each other via digital interfaces, and the only equipment needed is a PC computer. Much like other sports, professional players compete in tournaments that are broadcast on ESPN and attract viewership by the millions — outnumbering even the World Series and the NBA Finals in spectators.
On college campuses, esports are increasingly gaining recognition and official implementation. The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) is comprised of colleges across the United States offering scholarships and other marks of varsity status to student-gamers. NACE membership grew nearly sevenfold within its first six months of existence, demonstrating the exponential growth of collegiate esports. Colleges like Robert Morris University even implemented esports into its athletic department, its website is complete with team rosters and a recruitment form.
As university-level esports continue to grow and become more formalized, talks involving Title XI and the NCAA have commenced. Esports bring up regulation questions never seen before in college athletics, such as whether esports should fall under the athletics department (like at Robert Morris) or Student Affairs (like at UC Irvine). Another point of controversy is whether gamers should get to keep their streaming revenue or prize money from tournaments.
It’s clear that the esports trend is catching fire. An additional sixty-two colleges and two Division I conferences are looking to join NACE, and esports teams and arenas are popping up in universities across the nation. Gamers have stepped into the sports scene and plan to stay. They are changing the way we look at and think about sports; they are shaping our culture and defining our generation.
Lead Image Credit: Leanne Yuen