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Colleges are showing their age on eSports
When most students arrive on a college campus for their first day of freshman orientation, many will drive past the sign at the main entrance of the school and notice it shows the year the school was established on the bottom corner. The school proudly markets their century’s old roots, and it’s supposed to instill a sense of pride and security in students, re-affirming that the school has been preparing student’s for the professional world for over a century. It also helps add to the vision that their tuition dollars are being put to good use.
Students today are facing many incredibly harsh realities when it comes to the collegiate educational system in the United States. Many are finding that the once long-standing beacon of hope for dreamers and those looking to move up to the next social strata, has now become more of a student loan-machine, rather than delivering on the promises they have become known to represent. Colleges in the United States have traditionally been the place where society has looked for innovation and leadership on a broad range of topics including technological innovation, provocative theories on humanity, social activism, embracing change, and pushing the limits of possibility. However, it appears that the nostalgia of what higher education represents is fading quickly, and this couldn’t be more evident than with the school’s reluctance to adopt the cultural phenomena known as eSports.
While the economic arguments on whether a college degree is worth it continue to rage on, one thing is certain. Colleges are showing their age when it comes to the adoption of eSports and embracing competitive gaming culture as a legitimate career path for students. The fact is, colleges across the United States are still awakening to the idea of eSports, while professional sports teams and countries like South Korea are fully embracing competitive gaming culture as the future of an already rapidly expanding industry.
What is even more perplexing is that colleges still remain reluctant to go all in with eSports, even though industry viewership rates continue to increase, and top professional eSports gamers can earn millions of dollars annually from competitive gaming. If you don’t believe it, check out our article on how much do pro gamers make. The real-life eSports experience is just as impressive, as major eSports tournaments often showcase tens of thousands of passionate fans across all age demographics, and winners can leave with six and seven figure prize rewards. In fact, the popularity of eSports games such as League of Legends, CS:GO, and Fortnite has given dramatic rise to online streaming services such as Twitch, in which users can pay a monthly subscription to watch their favorite eSports matches and engage with their favorite eSports content creators.
So the question remains — why have most colleges in the United States been so anemic in their mass adoption of eSports into their official athletic program or as an independent program? If the eSports industry is blowing up at an unprecedented rate, why are colleges so slow and hesitant to jump in? In this article, we will discuss the 5 reasons for why colleges are getting an F in eSports. These reasons are:
- Slow to embrace
- Lack of investment
- Absence of foresight into the future (media & streaming)
- Club affiliations
- No central governing body
Read on to learn more about the current college eSports landscape and what they’re doing wrong. If you came to this page looking to find out more on how to get an eSports scholarship, check out our related article.
#1: Slow to embrace
In the words of the great musical commentator Will Smith, parents just don’t understand. That song has nothing to do with eSports, it’s just awesome! However, something similar could be said about the administrators and decision-makers at many colleges who don’t understand or choose not to understand, the eSports industry and competitive gaming culture as a whole. The truth is that the eSports industry did not manifest itself and become an overnight sensation. The problem that many schools are facing today is that too often people at the top are still asking questions like what is eSports, is eSports a sport, or why is eSports so popular? Or in this case, a quote from the Director of the Fiesta Bowl, one of college football’s most prestigious bowl games, represents a complete misunderstanding of the eSports industry and its athletes:
“My perception was this out-of-shape kid that’s eating Cheetos and playing a game, and can’t talk socially, and is a basket case athletically,” Nealy said. “No, these are normal kids. …This is just a different avenue. They’re smart, intelligent and very capable individuals that have found a niche and are doing something that they enjoy doing.”
Unfortunately, this sentiment is likely shared by many high-ranking administrators at colleges across the US and illustrates how those in charge often lack complete knowledge, information, and insight related to eSports. Stereotypes around competitive gaming culture have been around since the 1980’s, and one can argue that the maturity of the eSports industry was handcuffed for decades due to unfair stereotypes and criticisms about gamers and the long-term viability of professional gaming. The truth is, the renaissance of competitive gaming throughout the late 1990’s and 2000’s was primarily due to advancements in gaming technology, the internet, and gamers who drove the movement forward even while often being pushed to the fringes of society.
Waiting on the world to change
Colleges should not be in a “wait and see” mode when it comes to eSports. One of the duties of higher education is to prepare students for the world that is here, and the world that is coming. Regardless of the fact that by 2020 eSports is expected to reach over $1.4 billion in revenue, schools should not be in the business of business and making decisions on whether or not to embrace a culture like a hedge-fund waiting to invest in a start-up. There are millions of student’s across the country, whom over the decades, have carved up their own little piece of campus dormitories, computer labs, and rec-rooms to celebrate competitive gaming. However, it is time for the schools to begin embracing gaming and supporting eSports by providing students with the organizational and infrastructure support needed to turn eSports into a viable career.
What we have seen is that many schools are only passively dipping their toe’s into the eSports waters, by using private organizations such as Tespa and the NACE to essentially provide them with the tools and infrastructure to promote a competitive gaming culture on campus. While those organizations are providing value and pioneering the collective organization of eSports amongst colleges, schools themselves need to be significantly more hands-on with these initiatives and take ownership of their eSports future. It shouldn’t be far outside the realm of possibility for schools to begin to offer eSports or gaming degree programs on a mass scale. Keep in mind, there are probably more video game millionaires walking the earth from either playing competitively or by live streaming video game play than millionaires from some traditional college degree programs. However, that’s just our best educational guess.
#2: Lack of investment
The failure of colleges to make substantial infrastructure investments to allow eSports to flourish on campus is our next stop on this college report card. The truth is, colleges put money behind the programs they value, and it only requires a brief look at a school’s recent expenses to get an idea of an institution’s values. A prime example of colleges making tremendous capital investments into a single program is college athletics. According to a CNN report, colleges in the United States are building and renovating their football stadiums that often have staggering price tags. For example, between 2014-2015 Texas A&M University spent $485 million on their football stadium renovation. It’s no secret that many schools have shown very little hesitance to make substantial capital investments in areas such as college football and basketball because they see the financial value of these programs over the long-term.
If eSports is ever to become a real “thing” on college campuses across the US, schools will need to start actively and thoughtfully understanding the long-term value proposition of eSports. Collegiate eSports deserves the opportunity to flourish, not only because of its potential as a revenue-producing sport, but also to be a cornerstone of a school’s educational and cultural value proposition to students. It is also worth noting that in 2017 the NCAA earned $1.1 billion in revenue. According to market research firm Newzoo, eSports is predicted to earn $905.6 million globally in 2018. Even with those staggering figures, for some reason schools are still reluctant to take the leap into eSports.
Taking the leadership role
So what exactly does a college embracing eSports really look like? Let’s look at the case of the University of California-Irvine (UCI), in which they have made substantial investments in their eSports program and have taken a leadership position in college eSports.
In 2016, UCI opened the nation’s first eSports arena at a public university, raising a total of $250,000 in private funding. The 3,500 square-foot eSports facility holds 72 custom built gaming iBUYPOWER computers, Logitech gaming chairs, a live broadcasting station, and meeting spaces.
Not only has UCI made the capital investment into their eSports arena, but they have also provided an administrative staff to help manage and grow the UCI eSports program. The staff includes positions such as the Director of eSports, Arena Coordinator, Player Support Services, High School League Operations, League of Legends Team Manager, and more. They also have multiple internship positions focused on various aspects of their eSports program.
It may come as a surprise that a school having an adequate eSports website would need to be called out on this list. However, comparatively speaking, UCI’s eSports website is by far one of the most robust we have seen in collegiate eSports. In fact, few schools come close in terms of the sheer amount of depth and information provided by their website. Whether it’s covering the history of the program, details regarding the arena, recruitment, or information on their eSports boot camps, UCI has truly set the standard for collegiate eSports websites across the board.
In general, scholarships for eSports are still pretty rare and there is much more public excitement then there are actual scholarship opportunities across the country. However, UCI has placed competition as a core pillar of their eSports program, and provides scholarships to their varsity and junior varsity members, including up to $6,000 for varsity and $1,000 for junior varsity per year.
Another great part of UCI’s eSports program is that they let the public use their eSports arena and facilities. Currently, they charge $4 for 1 hour of use and $36 for 10 hours of use. That’s a huge benefit for local gamers in the area who want to play in a gaming center. Plus their equipment and hardware is high quality and new, which is an added bonus for any gamer.
#3: Absence of foresight into the future (media & streaming)
The ripple effects of the growth of eSports have impacted more than competitive gaming. Live streaming media platforms are becoming more integral to daily media consumption patterns, particularly amongst younger audiences. And this can mostly be attributed to the rise of eSports. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming are poised to reshape the media landscape. In fact, according to the website Statista, in 2012 there were 72 billion minutes spent watching content on the streaming platform Twitch, and in 2017 there were over 355 billion minutes of watch time. This represents a 283 billion minute increase over the period. As traditional media outlets are transitioning to an al-la-carte cable subscription model to attract younger audiences, we find that many younger audiences are wanting to engage directly with content creators themselves. This is positioning live streaming services like Twitch on a future growth curve that we predict will only continue to increase. In addition, the strong growth of online media platforms is creating a need for students to learn how to develop and promote their own personal brand.
Colleges should be knocking at the door of eSports, and doing everything in their power to position themselves as an authority on the rise of the eSports economy, which includes competitive gaming, live streaming, and who knows what else may come in the very near future. The fact is, there is a real need to educate students on the changing landscape, and many schools are consistently missing the boat.
#4: Club affiliations
The state of collegiate eSports organization is, unfortunately, more like the Dark Ages than the Renaissance. There is no better representation of this than the club. No, not the clubs cavemen used to swing, or the dance hall down the street. The vast majority of eSports participation amongst colleges we have seen come in the form of on-campus club organizations, also known as eSports clubs. While clubs are an excellent way for students to organize locally on campus and compete, the schools themselves need to make more of an effort to formalize an official eSports program that includes all of the elements mentioned earlier in this article. The lack of institutional investment, both in time and priority, is evident on many schools’ eSports club websites (if they even have one), as often the pages are either blank, severely outdated and inaccurate, or under-served to say the least.
The truth is that many schools simply don’t pay as much attention to on-campus clubs as they would an athletic program or a formal degree program. As a result, clubs may receive little to no financial support, which includes a lack of sponsorship for bigger tournaments, events, and on-campus promotional efforts. For this reason, schools need to shift the classification of eSports and position it to receive the same amount of attention as the big time programs. If eSports is ever going to take off in colleges, schools themselves will need to reevaluate their eSports offerings seriously, and finally, serve a student base that deserves more from their school.
#5: No central governing body
At the time of this writing, eSports does not have a formal governing body, which we believe has ultimately added to the confusion and reluctance of institutions to formalize an eSports offering. Unlike the NCAA, which acts as the governing and enforcement body on behalf of all member institutions, eSports still is lacking a centralized board that can enforce rules and address inconsistencies amongst schools who are competing in eSports. Schools themselves need to be more proactive about instituting a central enforcement board if organizations like the NCAA is not willing taking the lead.
We would imagine that college presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors communicate with each other on various issues. So because this isn’t the 1850’s, it should be rather easy for schools to form a collective panel on eSports enforcement using existing communication channels. Schools will need to take a long look in the mirror and take a strong leadership position on eSports competition.
The time is now for colleges to embrace eSports
At this point in the evolution of the eSports industry, colleges no longer have valid excuses for why they haven’t embraced eSports and a competitive gaming culture. There are drastic changes required at most colleges to provide students with an official eSports program they can truly be proud of. This cultural shift will not likely happen overnight, however, and with each passing day, schools are falling farther behind in terms of keeping up with the times. Colleges are truly showing their age when it comes to eSports and will need to embrace the future if higher education will remain relevant to the career goals of millions of students.
The good news is that colleges still have time to embrace and take a leadership position in eSports if they are willing to make the required investments mentioned in this article. But, they should keep in mind that they shouldn’t wait too much longer, or there may come a day when students are forced to bypass college altogether to follow their eSports dreams.