More col­leges are plug­ging into eS­ports and video games

Boston Herald - - BIZ SM@RT -

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.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI

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.

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