More colleges are plugging into eSports and video games
In some ways, they’re like typical college athletes. They’re on varsity teams. They train for hours between classes. Some get hefty scholarships. But instead of playing sports, they’re playing video games.
Varsity gaming teams with all the trappings of sports teams are becoming increasingly common as colleges tap into the rising popularity of competitive gaming. Even the NCAA is considering whether it should play a role.
Fifty U.S. colleges have established varsity gaming teams over the past three years, often offering at least partial scholarships and backed by coaches and game analysts.
“We’re talking to at least three or four new schools every single day. We did not expect this type of reaction,” said Michael Brooks, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate eSports, a group that represents more than 40 schools with varsity gaming teams.
Competitive gaming, often called esports, has become a booming entertainment industry, with flashy events that fill sports arenas and draw millions of online viewers.
But until recently, most colleges were slow to meet demand for a collegiate version, experts say, but interest has come in a flurry over the past year.
Smaller private schools in particular have been quick to create varsity programs as a way to boost enrollment numbers, although so far it has brought mixed results. Among several starting new teams this year is the College of St. Joseph, a school of about 260 students in Vermont.
“Strategically, we knew that it would give us more cache with students,” said Jeff Brown, the school’s senior vice president and athletic director.
Although most collegiate tournaments are now organized by third-party gaming leagues or video-game companies, the rapid expansion has caught the attention of the NCAA. The league’s board of governors announced in August that it will discuss its “potential role” in esports at an October meeting.
NEW BREED OF STUDENT-ATHLETE: Fifty U.S. colleges have established varsity-level teams for video game players and the NCAA has taken note of the boom in eSports.