Wednesday, April 17

The Rising Popularity of College Esports

Anyone remotely familiar with modern gaming has heard that the popularity of esports has grown rapidly over the last ten years. Esports isn’t gaming like playing in your favorite online casino but is organized gaming between individuals or teams that compete for cash playing popular online video games.

Esports is one of the fastest-growing activities on college campuses, with universities across the U.S. launching programs for esports at an ever-increasing rate. Many of these programs started as campus clubs run by students but see increased participation in one of the many organized leagues. 

As a result, the activity is seeing increased support from colleges and universities. It is set to become a mainstream extracurricular activity like other college sports.

Universities Embrace Esports

One example is North Carolina State University, which recently received $16 million from the state to construct the largest esports facility in the country on its campus. $12 million of the funds will be used to build a spectator facility for esports activities, with the other $4 million used to build a ‘mobile arena,’ which can travel anywhere in the state to bring esports activity to other locations for special events. 

The college esports industry has also grown with the increased support from outside institutions such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), where more than 170 universities with their own esports leagues are offered memberships. 

Most of the leagues at the colleges and universities had been in existence for many years but are now taking advantage of the entrance of esports into the mainstream. As popularity continues to grow, more schools have become willing to invest in esports.

Students have been participating in competitive gaming on campus, mainly on a small scale, until the early 2010s. Part of the quick rise of college esports has been the vast interest of the top game developers in the business. 

Their primary interest is to get students interested in and committed to esports activities. In addition, it’s an excellent opportunity for developers like Blizzard and Riot to work closely with leagues to develop and evolve their products.

More Than 175 and Growing

Since esports emerged on college campuses in 2014, more than 175 colleges and universities now recognize esports as a varsity program. However, institutions must still choose whether esports will remain a student-run organization or become a varsity sport. 

There are advantages to both, as varsity programs can become a member of NACE or another organization since the NCAA doesn’t regulate esports. In addition, student-run programs can participate in leagues such as the Collegiate Star League (CSL) along with others. More than 11,000 teams at 1,800 different schools in the CSL network regularly partner with online streaming platforms to broadcast the games. 

Many collegiate esports players have the opportunity to become a professional while remaining enrolled in school. College campuses can even be thought of like the minor leagues of esports. Many who perform at a top level in college have a great chance to become professional gamers. 

Esports Scholarships Now a Reality

Students can often still earn a degree while being supported through scholarships from various tournaments or other origins. Esports scholarships are now playing an increased role in bringing college esports to the forefront and becoming a valuable tool in recruiting players. Like college recruiting for sports such as football and basketball, colleges use scholarships to entice players to enroll at their institutions to participate in esports.

Esports viewership is expected to surpass 29 million viewers in 2022, with the number expected to continue increasing in the coming years. As esports become more popular, many students consider the presence of esports on campus when deciding which college to attend. 

As a result, universities now have to consider if having an esports program is advantageous for their schools to remain an attractive choice for future students. As a gamer, there can be many advantages to joining a college esports club.