Your child plays Fortnite and you think, their brain is turning to mush. Read a book! Go out and play! Over 120 schools offer it and programs work on luring the best players. They call it the “Wild West”.
Colleges are building million dollar facilities where gamers take on their counterparts on other campuses and yes, it’s an official collegiate sport to boot!
Read the two articles below for the partial list of colleges that offer this program and this growing sport.
Collegiate Varsity Esports Programs
But, with the help of advertisers and investors, that number is rising much faster.
In 2017, investors contributed $750 million, making up 50% of the worldwide market size.
Advertisers and sponsors contributed over $250 million. Those numbers put the end-of-2017 market valuation of esports at 1.5 billion dollars. End-of-year projections expect esports to be a $2.3 billion market in 2022.
That’s some serious growth…
And now, US colleges are jumping on board the global esports train:
Only seven colleges and universities had varsity esports programs in July of 2016. By 2018 there were 63 institutions.
The largest US organization is the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), which formed in 2016. NACE is “a nonprofit membership association organized by and on behalf of our member institutions” (US colleges).
The NACE program describes a varsity esports program as “the principal teams representing a college or university. Primarily these teams compete against similar teams at peer educational institutions.”
Esports, of course, are video games played competitively. This can be anything from 5 v 5 teamwork-testers like League of Legends, to 1 v 1 strategy-dominant Hearthstone, to anything-can-happen PUBG, and beyond.
In Growing ‘Wild West’ of Campus Esports, Programs Rush to Lure the Best Players
by Terry Nguyen
In high school, Ryan Nget was already a professional gamer. He spent hours training for his next League of Legends tournament, climbing the rankings, and winning thousands of dollars in prize money. When he started applying to colleges, Nget wanted to keep up his competitive gaming profile while also enjoying college as a normal student. Harrisburg University of Science and Technology gave him that option.
A growing number of colleges like Harrisburg are buying into esports, starting programs and building million-dollar facilities where gamers take on their counterparts on other campuses. And while some observers roll their eyes at the trend — still in its infancy — high-profile esports programs are looking to gain prestige by recruiting gamers like Nget.
“It doesn’t matter to me what people think about the sport,” he said. “All I know is that I’m getting a full ride to Harrisburg University.”
The world of collegiate esports currently comprises more than 120 programs in universities nationwide, and interest is soaring. The National Association of Collegiate Esports formed only around two years ago with seven member colleges.
There is no one model for recruiting, since the sport is so new, said Victoria Horsley, a spokeswoman for the association. “Esports is kind of like the wild West of the collegiate space,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know a lot about it, or [colleges] don’t know how to start or maintain a program.”
What they do know is that gaming talent is key to entering the competitive landscape. To hunt for the best players, some colleges opt to work with external recruiting networks like Next College Student Athlete or beRecruited, services popular among traditional athletes and coaches. Others have coaches search on gaming leaderboards, attend high-school tournaments, and hold competitions to draw in varsity-level talent.
Recruiting networks present coaches with an accessible pool of gamers they can easily contact. Network staff members work with players to put together résumés and game-playing footage to show coaches.
In traditional sports, the recruiting process can begin for athletes and coaches as early as middle school. But since game-play tactics, and the games themselves, can quickly change, esports coaches tend to look toward juniors and seniors in high school, said Alan Gadbois, an esports recruiting coach at Next College Student Athlete.
“There is very little traditional scouting that can be done,” he said. “There aren’t a ton of combines that college coaches can go to. Instead they’re going onto different [chat] servers, onto leaderboards manually messaging all these kids.”
Gamers are identified by a gamertag, an on-screen alias that usually doesn’t reference their real names. So scouting is difficult unless recruiters are actually present with players at a tournament. A lot of outreach is required to establish direct contact, Gadbois said.
Players frequently communicate on services like Discord, a voice-and-text chat app, and programs like Harrisburg’s have created their own message channel for student-gamers.
The program also has a strong social-media presence: It hosted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session to discuss recruitment and revealed its esports staff members live on Twitch, a streaming video platform popular among gamers.
As a result of its online outreach, Harrisburg attracted hundreds of interested applicants last spring. The pool is expected to increase to 1,000 by next recruitment season, said Chad Smeltz, Harrisburg’s esports program director.
The university held online trials for hundreds of gamers and brought the top 30 players (including Nget) to the campus to test their skills in person. At the end of tryouts, Nget and 15 other players were placed into varsity teams and awarded full-ride scholarships to Harrisburg.
‘Bring Talent In’
Robert Morris University Illinois, based in Chicago, is one of the first colleges in the nation to award scholarships to esports players, with varsity athletes receiving awards of as much as 70 percent of tuition, said Kurt Melcher, executive director of the esports program.
Rather than use external networks, Robert Morris’s esports recruitment strategy is similar to that for traditional athletics programs — in the athletics department itself. “We hire staff that has a good network and strong connections to that specific game community,” Melcher said, “and then we really rely almost exclusively on that coach being able to identify and then bring talent in.”
The University of California at Irvine recruits gamers from a pool of current students through an on-campus tryout process. It also scouts high-school students but limits the number of esports recruits to three or four per year said Mark Deppe, the university’s esports director.
“We have such insane talent on campus,” he said. “We definitely do recruit off-campus, but not the same way other programs do. What we haven’t done yet is offer them a scholarship before they arrive on campus.”
One virtue of in-person tryouts, he added, is authenticity — it’s easy to “fake so much stuff online.”
Because Irvine’s esports program is housed in the student-affairs department, the program has a focus broader than competition. It also includes game research and career development for participating students.
Nationally, an extensive process of recruitment and tryouts, starting in high school, is becoming the norm as programs intensify competitively.
“As far as recruiting from high school to college, it’s starting to become more and more common,” Gadbois said. “As more programs start to come up and more financial backing from the school starts to come into play, more high schoolers will begin to come up.”
Some colleges are just establishing a stake in esports. They’d do well to look down the road, Deppe said.
“Even with the rapid growth of college esports, I sense there may be a bubble forming,” he said. “There are a lot of schools looking to generate interest in their university, position themselves as innovators, and win championships. With over 100 schools now investing in esports, … the space is getting more saturated. I worry about what happens when schools don’t accomplish their objectives.”
Follow Terry Nguyen on Twitter at @terrygtnguyen, or email her at email@example.com.
Correction (1/29/2019, 9:30 a.m.): This article originally stated that some colleges pay recruiting networks for their services. Such networks also provide free services, and in some cases are paid by athletes’ families. The text has been updated accordingly. The original article also gave an incorrect title for Alan Gadbois. He is a recruiting coach at Next College Student Athlete, not Next College.
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