The Evolution of College Esports

This Article was contributed by Matthew Carrico, Editorial Intern.

Over the past couple of years, the esports industry has grown into quite the juggernaut in terms of impact in the mainstream. Esports, a few years ago, may seem like an obscure concept. However, statistics and economics show that the industry is a thriving and booming business that is still expanding. Esports have done much to impact the world in various ways but none more so than in the world of collegiate esports and the impacts on colleges across the globe.

A recent study came out in The Sport Journal that highlights various important aspects and impacts that college esports has provided. It emphasizes things such as the economic growth of esports globally, collegiate esports as a business, and the benefits of esports on student life on campuses. The overall purpose of the article is to demonstrate the potential and importance of college esports programs to universities and other institutions.

Looking at the great world of esports before diving into the collegiate side, the projected revenue for the global esports industry looks to attain $1.1 billion in the coming year. This shows just how far the industry has come in the few years that it has been popularized. Just as a point of interest, in 2016, the industry generated over $492 million in revenue. By 2020, the industry was growing and projected revenue was estimated to be around $1.48 billion just in the United States alone and shows an increase of over 32%. The cause for this growth was mainly by growing interest by investors. In fact, the number of investments for esports has grown from 34 in 2017 to 68 in 2018 which effectively doubles it. Sponsorships play some of the biggest roles in the industry since these generate a large amount of revenue for esports. With this support, the industry will continue to prosper for years to come.

Now take a look more into the collegiate side of the esports industry. Esports have evolved out of already standardized methods used for regular sports on college campuses. Looking more at the structure, college sporting events are composed of mass audience gatherings, an established professional venue for players, and a system for collecting revenue including ticket sales and merchandising. Thus, it would make sense to add esports to the list of programs and follow a similar strategy.

Fast forward to today and now we have over 170 esports programs in colleges across the United States according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). Tournaments organized with esports, like ones by organizers such as Tespa, have caught the attention of more than 1,350 schools and over 40,000 esports players. The expansion of esports is still continuing to thrive with many campuses either with plans to establish their own esports program or having a strategy to launch their esports teams even further. Some recent examples include esports teams for the University of Arizona, State Fair Community College, and Southern Illinois College.

Esports has not only provided colleges with benefits but it extends to the students who partake in the programs as well. One such example is the over $16 million in scholarships that circulate every year for students to further their education. Besides monetary gains, these esports programs have also provided many personal benefits for students. This includes teamwork building, acquiring leadership skills, critical thinking, and engagement with the medium.

For teamwork, many esports titles such as Call of Duty, Rocket League, and League of Legends require teams to properly function. It is here where students can converse with their teammates, building connections with them, and devising strategies that will help them take to win the match.

When it comes to gaining leadership skills, many esports teams will often have one person act as a leader. It is their calm and calculating mindset that allows them to influence the rest of the team into striving for victory in the tournaments. It is here where the qualities of good leadership can be gained and tested. From these events, these skills can be applied to events in the real world when the situation should ever present itself.

Critical thinking applies when coming up with effective strategies to help win the event. This applies to fighting games like Smash Bros. and Street Fighter (where coming up with the right combos and movements can help win the match), first-person shooters like Halo and Doom (choosing the right weapon and knowing the proper time to strike the enemy), multiplayer online battle games (cooperation with teammates and building strategies for victory previously mentioned apply here), and racing like Gran Turismo and Formula One (choosing the proper car details and knowing the best routes to take in order to come out victorious).

Finally, the biggest benefit for students is the overall engagement it brings. Esports is an inclusive event open to all students interested in either spending time with/making friends or going professional. The level of participation can often be staggering once seen in action. Since engagement is an important factor for students, many colleges have started to build curriculums around esports. Esports does not only need to be about sports but also about the other important aspects of the industry. Fields such as business management, broadcast journalism, and even STEM academic disciplines.

Even now the collegiate esports field is still growing and may even be on par with that of the sports industry. The study even mentions how esports could become the next March Madness. Esports has grown beyond the United States and has reached other countries. The UK, in particular, has grown to have 110 universities and 15,000 students in their esports lineup. Esports have gotten to a point where the idea of betting, similar to that of horse racing, is being considered a possibility for esports. While the state of betting is unclear at the moment, many issues revolve around the idea of betting in esports. Specifically with the regulations that need to be put in place and some do not want to be specifically on college teams. More information on betting in the esports world can be found here.

The future of college esports is looking bright. Esports has grown in many ways but none more so than in the past few years. One event that could be attributed to this could be the COVID-19 pandemic where many sporting events were canceled and thus fans had to find a different outlet. Either way, more colleges, and even K-12 schools are adding esports to their list of programs and more games continue to come out that could serve as new outlets for esports in the future with games like Among Us and Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout being potential candidates for new esports platforms.


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