Esports on campus was not something many of us from the Pong and Pac Man generations saw coming. Much has changed in the last twenty years, yet the idea of organized, competitive video gaming is still a tough concept to grasp.
That said, if we look a little closer at the groundbreaking technologies and innovative career paths that have evolved to support the now $200 billion gaming industry, it becomes clear that esports on campus isn’t only a logical adoption for students, schools, and technology brands, but an incredibly exciting opportunity in this new era of technology-rich sports and education.
Just look at the numbers. To say that esports is gaining momentum would be an understatement. National esports is expected to reach 84 million U.S. viewers by 2021 with a value of $1.7 billion, passing every professional U.S. sport in viewership other than the NFL. Competitors are also collecting sizable winnings, even at the student level. For example, players for the University of Texas, Dallas (UTD) won the Southern Regional Conference last year, with each player taking home $8,000.
Esports on campus is more than just a game
Even with the astonishingly swift growth of this industry, many are still unsure why universities are offering top players thousands of dollars in scholarships, and how esports on campus goes along with academics.
Understanding the mechanics behind esports on campus might help shed some light. Multiplayer video games played competitively require a level of depth that demands near-mastery of real tactics, communication, cooperation, and incredible motor skills.
According to a pioneering scientific study of esports athletes in Germany, top-tier young players are capable of up to 400 focused asymmetrical actions per minute–a level of strain and hand-eye coordination unseen by professionals in any other sport. The same study looked at the athletes’ release of the stress hormone cortisol during high-level competition, which was equivalent to that of a professional race-car driver, and player heart rate, which approached that of a marathon runner.
The academic component
More than a quarter of U.S. colleges and universities offer at least club-level esports competition, and that number is growing fast. But esports hasn’t just benefited the talented young players who partake in clubs, student affairs, or varsity athletics. Esports has extended into academic areas of study, including engineering and other STEM-focused programs.
A growing number of schools across the U.S. are leveraging new degree paths and research opportunities that capitalize on the expanding gaming industry. This is also an effort to attract top students—many of whom are pursuing careers within STEM and game design theory across a variety of disciplines, from engineering and technology, to healthcare, finance, retail, arts, sports marketing and many others.
Top-ranked universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Drexel University are just a few institutions with high-quality game design programs.
Scholarships for students pursuing careers in game design and interactive entertainment are also available from a variety of funding sources.
The technology component
An added advantage to these growing programs is the exposure students receive to cutting-edge technologies. Students are able to experience high-performance and data-intensive gaming systems—including Alienware computers, hyper wall displays, live streaming and broadcasting equipment, analytics and 3D physics engines, and immersive technologies including AR and VR.
New York Institute of Technology is setting the bar
A state-of-the-art eSports arena was unveiled last December at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), and hosted the ECC League of Legends Championship in March 2019 where the NYIT CyBears won it all.
The facility and esports program are a model example for other universities to follow. NYIT’s online publication, The Box, included this fitting quote from Nada Anid, Ph.D., vice president for strategic communications and external affairs at NYIT: “Since technology is in our name, it only seems natural that New York Institute of Technology be at the forefront of collegiate esports.”
Extending well beyond entertainment, the new esports arena is an extension of a much larger effort by the institute to offer a comprehensive academic program including an interdisciplinary studies bachelor’s degree with a concentration in game design and visualization.
Student involvement was critical from day one in building up the program, as was the technology required to help bring it all together.
“When we started building our esports program at the New York Institute of Technology, we looked to our students to guide us on what we needed to compete successfully. The students were most excited about the powerful hardware they were able to use,” says Daniel Vélez, M.S., director of athletics at NYIT. “Now, as the East Coast Conference League of Legends title holders, I definitely credit the high-quality specs and power of the systems on which we train and compete, as contributing to the success of the program.”
Getting started with a network of motivated players
The technology required to support esports on campus, like the program at NYIT, can be fairly complex. For those just starting out, the prospect of where and how to begin may seem like a daunting task. How do schools ensure their IT infrastructure is robust and scalable enough to handle the large compute and seamless interconnectivity requirements? Do they rely on traditional on-premises infrastructure or a secure, hybrid cloud? And logistically, how best do they integrate shoutcasting and broadcasting, recording playback and even performance analytics for coaching?
The good news is there are resources available to help schools navigate the complexity. Whether just starting to explore the idea of adding an esports program or building upon a champion-level team, schools can look to the extended esports community for support.
Together, this community of motivated players can help make esports on campus an entirely innovative means to inspire, educate and collaborate with others, both locally and worldwide.
After all, isn’t that what higher education is all about?
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