The explosive growth of collegiate eSports, part 1

What it takes to build a digital sports team

Nearly a year ago, SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran was looking at ways to grow his athletic department. Statistics on student-athletes showed higher GPAs, higher retention rates, and higher graduation rates than the rest of the student body. Recruiting more of these academically successful students was a top priority, and President Szafran had come across an idea that was non-traditional but showed great promise.

Within a few short months, SUNY Canton added three eSports teams and was competing at the varsity level with a number of other forward-thinking colleges and universities around the country. eSports is growing exponentially (the numbers are staggering), and university athletic departments and administrators are taking notice.

In the first article of this three-part series about collegiate eSports, I’ll discuss how SUNY Canton built our eSports program. Stay tuned for parts two and three, which will show how teachers are developing curriculum to support the gaming workforce and what IT departments need to do to make eSports come to life.

The new digital athlete
Ten, five or even two years ago, the association between video games and athletics didn’t exist. Today, however, we’re recruiting and training eSports students that are changing the complexion of traditional college athletic teams.

Generation Z is often referred to as the first digital generation. They grew up using the internet, and according to Nielsen, 73 percent of them have video game consoles. They spend hours each week playing popular games like Fortnite and League of Legends, and, with the launch of Twitch in 2011, live-streaming parties became another new normal that helped pave the way for eSports.

But eSports isn’t just about playing games. Its popularity has opened the door to new career paths in game design and development, and the dream of working in the eSports industry or becoming a professional gamer is now a reality. In fact, Indeed job postings related to eSports are up 18 percent since last year and 57 percent since 2015.

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