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All Aboard the Esports Train…

By Carolyn Glime, AIA

If you haven’t already hopped on board, or at least explored ticket prices and their destinations, you should consider doing so soon before you miss the opportunity that is now speeding down the tracks at near light speed.  Just ten years ago, esports was relatively unknown and certainly not organized around major tournament events as it is today.  It has become a near billion dollar a year industry with annual revenue estimated to grow to over $1.6 billion, including over 550 million viewers and enthusiasts by 2021, according to Newzoo, the leading provider of market intelligence covering the global games, esports, and mobile markets.

The rapid increase in popularity isn’t only a result of the dedicated esports fan base but also because online platforms such as Twitch and YouTube have provided greater access to viewing it casually.  There are 1.13 million active streamers and 432,000 active streamers per quarter, respectively, according to a Streamlabs analysis.  By broadcasting live coverage of events and their own gameplay, players are making it easy for fans to participate in their favorite games and engage with their favorite esports athletes. The rapid growth has also been contributed to the massive increase in prize money offered to winners in the industry.   The top-earning esports team, Team Liquid, has earned over $24 million collectively playing games such as Dota, Counterstrike, and Starcraft, with one tournament alone, the International 2017 (T117), earning them $10,862,683.    The Walt Disney Company chose Team Liquid to participate in the ‘Disney Accelerator’ program in 2017.

Needless to say, esports is no longer a fad, but an exploding industry that higher education should pay attention to since most who either view or play eSports are between the ages of thirteen and thirty, many of whom will attend college or are currently enrolled.  The number of higher education institutions that participate in organized eSports activities on campus is growing quite rapidly, mostly as part of the co-curricular experience; however, within the last few months, at least two institutions have launched undergraduate degree programs in eSports.  Ohio State University announced last fall that it would offer an undergraduate degree program to “produce versatile and employable graduates for a fast-growing gaming industry,” according to Inside Higher Ed online news, and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology recently developed a B.A. program in eSports.

In 2016, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was established to advance collegiate esports at the varsity level, laying the groundwork in areas such as eligibility, the path to graduation, and competition, and scholarships.  Today, 175 colleges and universities are members of NACE (https://nacesports.org/)  and offer officially recognized varsity esports programs, which is less than 10% of all accredited higher education institutions in the United States.  However surprising, it may be attributed to the cost associated with creating the necessary infrastructure and facilities to create a thriving program to some degree.  The needs go well beyond the recreational gaming room in residence halls that many institutions were implementing in the last fifteen years to house a few Xbox, Playstation, and WII consoles as a student life amenity.

To accommodate thriving esports teams, and host events at the varsity level, institutions need to not only have the technology infrastructure to provide effective competition on campus but also stream events live to audiences all over the world.   At just over 11,000 square feet, Full Sail University opened the largest esports arena in higher education in 2019.   Nicknamed “the Fortress,” it boasts seating for an audience of 500 and is home to Armada, the University’s varsity esports team.  Separate practice space is provided for the team to prepare for upcoming tournaments.  Those are the spaces that are needed for student engagement in esports and are the visible elements of esports on campus.  However, there are additional spaces and complex technology requirements needed for reliable network connectivity and global broadcasting capabilities, which are typically not visible but where significant investment is made because this is the heart of what makes gaming and esports possible.

The good news is, a campus doesn’t have to start with a large arena or global broadcasting capabilities.   In 2019, NACE reported that the average cost of starting a varsity esports program on campus is approximately $41,000 and that the average program draws 15 students during its first year, many of whom are interested in STEM fields and computer science. The basic investment includes adequate computers to accommodate gaming or that are designed for the sport, as well as specialized furniture and equipment such as adjustable headsets, keyboards, and mice designed for gamers.  The technology infrastructure to play games online, and of course, the space to play is needed as well.  Because there are no regulations for esports yet, nor any governing organization or accreditation required, it is and activity that is relatively easy to start, so what are you waiting for?

If you are interested in additional content on higher education click here or email Carolyn Glime with your thoughts.

 

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