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70% of Campuses Now Considering Esports Programs

4 Sep, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Those who have been considering creating or hosting an esports event have some more ammunition for their argument, thanks to a new survey that shows a whopping 71 percent of colleges are considering instituting an esports program.

That choking sound you hear is the collective eating of crow by all those who thought this was a passing fad. And maybe another sound was the NCAA rushing to have second thoughts on its previous decision not to try to govern esports.

The report, published by Extreme Networks and eCampus News, announced last week, also provided some insights into the esports landscape at the collegiate level that give event owners and destinations good reason to get on the stick:

  • More schools are using scholarships to attract esports talent: 20 percent of schools say they are already offering scholarships and financial aid to encourage students with esports experience to apply and enroll; and another 67 percent say they are considering it.
  • In one in five schools, an esports program is already in place
  • Only nine percent of schools surveyed found a lack of interest in esports
  • It’s not as expensive as some might think; 69 percent of schools with esports programs estimated the annual cost to be less than $10,000
  • At the school level, League of Legends and Overwatch are the most popular games, as 81 percent of schools involved in esports compete in League of Legends and 50 percent compete in Overwatch, followed by Fortnite with 37 percent. Others with frequent mentions include FIFA, Hearthstone, Dragonball Fighter Z, Rocket League, andSuper Smash Brothers

Collegiate esports are on the uptick. The National Association for Collegiate Esports recently noted its membership has increased to more than 150 schools, and that the growth continues. eCampus News says that more than a quarter of U.S. colleges and universities offer at least club-level esports competition, and that the number continues to grow.

“It’s crazy,” Victoria Horsley, marketing manager for NACE toldSDM back in April. “We have an informational e-mail form on our website people can fill out. I’ve gone through six inquiries today and it’s only noon. We’re going to be hiring for the position of director of membership services because it’s just growing exponentially.”

The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) both recently announced a partnership with NACE, recognizing it as their official governing body for esports.

The National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) is also working to get on board. “Literally, we have had two meetings to date on esports and the rapidly growing trend,” says Dan Wood, executive Director. “We are certainly trying to see what and where the NCCAA can engage in this by 2020-21. Actually have two schools already launching efforts on their campus and pushing us to ‘hustle.’”

(NCAA continues to be a holdout, having tabled any discussion on the subject but as growth continues, expect the issue to resurface.)

NACE has noted that more than 140 colleges are currently offering around $15 million per year in scholarships for esports students, much like traditional athletics scholarship recipients. Over the summer, the organization worked with Harena Data Inc (GYO Score) to offer esports summer camps and combines for prospective students and players seeking esports scholarships nationally. NASC’s Horsley reports that over 50 percent of the schools involved found players as a result of those events.

One of the reasons more colleges are getting on board is because increasingly, students are coming from a background of having played esports in high school. Mark Koski, CEO of the NFHS Network and director of marketing for the National Federation of State High School Associations, has noted that 13 states presently host high school esports championships, and that number is expected to rise to 20 states by October, and to continue its climb on a forward-going basis.

The Extreme Networks and eCampus News report found that students benefit from having esports on campus:

  • 88 percent of schools with esports programs in place said that their program diversifies extracurricular activities
  • 56 percent said it improves overall campus experience
  • 47 percent said it fosters interest in STEM
  • 41 percent said it helps with student recruitment

Schools also reported that esports can help develop in-demand job skills. SUNY Canton, home to the first varsity esports squad in New York State and the first New York State esports team to join NACE, leverages its esports program to offer degrees in game design and development, technological communication, cybersecurity and graphics and multimedia.

And not unlike football programs, where it’s not just a winning record but high-tech stadiums, training programs and even locker rooms are used as marketing tools to attract top players, colleges who want to cultivate esports offerings are eyeing the construction of purpose-built esports competition and training venues. The report found that 59 percent of schools with an esports program either have a designated esports facility or are planning on building one.

The industry is ready to serve, with design firm HOK and software company SAP partnering on their own report, this on the design and construction of esports venues. And with schools starting to cut less popular majors in favor of adding esports, it’s a tradition that can be expected to continue.

NACE held its first highly successful national convention in July in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The convention was held on location with NACE member institution Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (HU). In addition to taking care of legislative business and updating its bylaws, the convention afforded attendees the chance to watch Harrisburg University and Boise State University face off in a featured Overwatch match-up. While Harrisburg ultimately took the victory, the event adjourned to a celebration at a baseball game between the Minor League Harrisburg Senators and the Portland Sea Dogs. (Who says traditional and esports don’t mix?)

Of course, any esports competition is only as good as the technical infrastructure of any venue intended to host it. Information on adapting networks for esports is readily available (one video is here, although there are many).

And at the end of it, there’s the economic impact component. The advent of esports competition, including at the collegiate level, is economic development. eCampus News reports that around the world, esports is growing at a rate of 40 percent a year. It is expected to top $1.5 billion dollars (U.S.) in revenue by 2020 with a global audience of more than 580 million. Employment of gaming software developers, graphic designers, virtual reality engineers, multimedia artists, and animators is projected to grow six percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities include sport sales, marketing, public relations, facilities operations, event and tournament management, announcers, coaches, etc.

Many cities and venues are just getting ready to dip their toes into the esports waters. A case study of a city that recently took the plunge, hosting its first esports competition can be found here.

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