The recent explosion of esports is a cultural phenomenon, to say the least. The gaming community has aptly embraced esports as the defining competitive forum in video games. While competitive gaming has been around for a long time including public competitions, the formation of official game-centric leagues with defined “seasons” of play have only been around for a few years. The popularity has ramped up so exponentially that esports are now receiving the same level of respect as athletic competitions. With games like Overwatch consuming airtime on ESPN, this is now all too apparent.
Get schooled in esports… at school
However, the evolution of esports has only just begun. Competitive gaming still can seep its way into more societal norms beyond just being the new “Monday-night football” to veg out to on the couch. Esports is now plunging into the world of academia with institutions such as the University of Akron fully supporting esports programs. As Forbes reports, it’s possible universities have started sensing that there are monetary gains to be had in this new cash cow.
The University of Akron, however, isn’t just talking the talk when it comes to the future inclusion of esports programs. It’s prepared to walk the walk as the school plans the construction of a massive esports facility on its campus. A posting on UA’s website about this undertaking indicates that the facility will be “a 2,646-square-foot esports center located on the first floor of the Jean Hower Taber Student Union.” The university is planning to facilitate as many as 10 esports teams in-house. Furthermore, the competitive gamers’ paradise will come complete with a “viewing lounge where live esports broadcasts will be aired throughout the day, and an exclusive training space for varsity teams.”
I’m fairly certain no one in my generation or beyond ever expected the word “varsity” to be associated with a competitive video game team in the realm of academics. And, the fun doesn’t stop with the University of Akron. Forbes also noted that Ashland University is offering a scholarship for Fortnite players! Recently, an avid Fornite player from Louisville, Kentucky was awarded the scholarship which enabled him to return to school.
A league of our own
ESPN reported earlier this year that varsity collegiate esports started in 2014 with one scholarship-endorsed team at Robert Morris University (Illinois). In just four years, these programs have spread to approximately 50 other schools across the country. And just in case you thought this trend couldn’t get even crazier, these programs do fall under a nationally recognized organization akin to the NCAA for athletics. The “governing body” is called the National Association of Collegiate Esports, or NACE. Check out ESPN’s article to see the entire listing for known NACE members.
Aspiring pro-gamers should take note that avenues have been paved to achieve esports glory. The culture surrounding the competitive gaming arena has only aided its growth. If we give this sub-segment of the game industry another few years, who knows what the new norms will be. Maybe, I’ll be able to pop into my local Buffalo Wild Wings and – in an age-appropriate section – drink a beverage, order some Thai Curry and Mango Habanero wings, and watch the finals of the CWL Championship.