Varsity video games — the latest sport
There is a chance a new kind of sport may be coming to our campus, a completely digital competition known as eSports.
MVNU officials are looking at beginning an eSports program, perhaps as soon as next school year.
If approved, the University will hire a coach for the program and give out scholarships.
Players would participate in tournaments, but nothing violent or sexual, Spaulding said.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an eSport is “a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers.”
The idea of eSports first came about in 1972 when Stanford University hosted a tournament for the game Spacewar, with the grand prize being a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. The first large-scale tournament was held in 1980 by Atari for their game Space Invaders. It attracted over 10,000 participants.
Now, the eSports market is dominated by games like League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
These games all contain their fair share of violence, with League of Legends and Dota 2 earning T for Teen ESRB ratings and Counter Strike: Global Offensive holding an M for Mature rating.
eSports has attracted a large following, with physical attendance at events as well as online streaming.
League of Legends, for example, held its 2013 Season 3 League of Legends World Championship in the sold-out Los Angeles Staples Center, which typically seats about 20,000. The 2014 League of Legends World Championship in Seoul, South Korea, had over 40,000 fans in attendance.
The prize pools for these competitions can be extremely high, with The International 2017 Dota 2 tournament having a total prize pool of nearly $25 million and the first-place team winning over $10 million.
Since 2014, there have been universities, like Robert Morris University Illinois and the University of Pikeville, that have treated eSports players as varsity level athletes and offered them athletic scholarships.
Closer to home, Tiffin University in Seneca County, also sponsors an eSports team. Nationwide, about 50 college eSports programs are competing.
College Magazine even published a “10 Best Schools for Gamers” article last spring, and professional media ranging from The New York Times to CNN have devoted coverage to the trend.
It is fair to say there would be a mix of responses on campus if MVNU adopts a program.
Senior computer systems and network engineering major Brandon George thinks “it would be an interesting program no one would really expect.”
But he doesn’t rule it out.
“I would consider that more of a viable option for the school than football,” George said.
Others, like senior middle child education major David Herman, have a less positive perspective on bringing a competitive eSports program to campus.
“Honestly I’ve always thought those are pretty stupid, but people that get into video games usually think real sports are stupid, so to each their own I guess,” Herman said.
I am an avid gamer, and have both played and watched games on a competitive level; however, I never imagined it as something that could get me a scholarship.
If it was, I certainly would have used it as an excuse to stay up later on school nights.
The market is strong, but the product appeals to a very niche audience. Unlike other sports, most eSports strictly appeal to people who play the game.
I can watch basketball and understand it and follow it without ever playing, whereas League of Legends would seem alien to me if I were not into gaming.
Still, many argue that the skill needed to perform on the highest level in eSports is something special.
A blog post on Starters quotes Columbia College President Dr. Scott Dalrymple as saying,
“True skill at video gaming is just as impressive — and just as legitimate — as excellence in traditional sports.”
Admittedly, there are no physical benefits that come along with the hours spent practicing. There may even be health concerns for players, who would be spending hours staring at a screen.
On the other hand, the addition of eSports would give those who are less athletically-inclined more opportunities to earn scholarships and find community at the University.
eSports is clearly a growing industry. If MVNU picks it up, it could see great success — or be rejected for being a waste of university dollars.