HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Experts predict that esports could generate more than a billion dollars around the world, and programs at local universities are gaining momentum.
Esports is a form of sport competition using video games. There are professional players worldwide, and the sport is gaining interest at high schools and colleges around the United States.
Krysten Ferrer, a senior at Regent University, loves video games. She’s a team captain and competes virtually with schools around the country.
“It's thrilling. It's exciting,” Ferrer said.
“I would say this is one of the fastest-growing sports industries in the world,” said Grant Deppen, the Old Dominion University esports director and assistant director of intramural sports.
Right now esports is a varsity sport at Old Dominion University, and Deppen said they are looking to offer scholarships to students in the near future.
“It’s really just meeting the needs of the new generation of students and the interest in areas that they want to engage in,” Deppen said.
According to Deppen, there are about 100 students who play at Old Dominion University.
Right now it’s a club sport at Regent University, and Nathan Tillett is director of the esports program. He said he's hoping to eventually make this a varsity sport at Regent.
We reached out to Regent, which said it had no information available to release about this.
“I've actually been able to recruit a few students, high school kids, to come and play for us,” Tillett said.
Experts say turning a club sport into a varsity sport provides the group with more support from the college or university.
Certain colleges are using their esports program as a way to recruit students.
According to Pew Research, gaming is popular among teens, especially teenage boys. A survey of people ages 13 to 17 conducted earlier this year found that more than eight in 10 teens (84%) say they have a game console at home or have access to one, and 90% say they play video games on a computer or cell phone.
Ferrer said participating in esports is more than just playing video games for both herself and her teammates.
“Some have told me they feel like they really stepped out of their box, just to even sign up or try out for the teams," she said. "It increases their social circle. I know some students probably wouldn't have cared about their grades otherwise, but we do have an academic standard they need to adhere to.”
School leaders say the students need to maintain a certain GPA to remain in the club.
“If we're not really into physical sports or other club activities, it's kind of our outlet,” Ferrer said.
“My big aspect for esports is to connect it with the STEM and STEAM fields,” Tillett explained. He said science, technology and engineering play a huge role in esports. “There's analytics that are really involved. You have to watch game tapes just like you would for football or basketball… Esports just creates an avenue for career possibilities."
“Of the students that we have, 75% of them are in a STEM major, so that’s computer science, engineering, science, cybersecurity and all sorts of things,” Deppen said. “We feel that it’s definitely a pathway for students that are interested in those types of academic majors.”
News 3 reached out to the National Association of Collegiate Esports with questions, and they provided the following answers:
Are esports growing on college campuses? If so, by how much?
Esports is growing exponentially, with most campuses having at least a student-run club, but with more adding varsity esports as a school-sanctioned competitive sport. For example, NACE started with only six schools back in 2016, but we have since expanded to over 160 members, with more being added every year.
What are the different types of college levels?
Collegiate esports is divided in to two types. The first is a club team that is organized by the students themselves. The second is varsity esports, where a school invests into establishing a competitive team with an on-site gaming facility for practices and competition, and a paid coach or director for esports. This team is usually housed under athletics or campus life depending upon the institution, but it functions essentially the same as any other varsity sports team, with uniforms, recruitment, eligibility requirements, and the like.
What are the benefits of college esports?
Collegiate esports allows an underserved part of the campus population to represent their school in competition. It is also the fastest-growing spectator sport on the planet, with over a billion dollars in revenue generated worldwide, and viewership for professional championships rivaling that of the Super Bowl. Esports also creates a school presence on streaming sites like Twitch, where fans can watch their teams compete over the internet. Esports also attracts students that are interested in a wide variety of majors, including Business Administration, Sports Management, Graphic Arts, Computer Programming, Game Design, Broadcast Journalism, and other academic programs. Many schools have benefited from this by adding esports-related content to their academic curricula, including esports concentrations, minors, and majors.
From a personal growth standpoint, esports develops teamwork, competition, communication skills, critical and strategic thought, and many of the same benefits as traditional athletics. Varsity esports also provides an opportunity for a new demographic of students to experience playing on a college team for the first time. The challenges of athletic competition, along with the potential recognition of success, can now be experienced by computer gamers as well as traditional athletes.
What are the drawbacks of esports?
Like any sport, esports as an activity is not without its risks. While traditional athletics must cope with physical injuries, esports players are often susceptible to mental challenges such as gaming addiction and depression. In many cases, this can be a much more serious condition than physical injury, and it’s important that coaches, educators, and campus counselors be aware of the potential issues and take appropriate measures. Also, computer gaming has earned a reputation for toxic behavior, and it’s up to both coaches and players to work to reform that impression and create an atmosphere of teamwork, fair play, and inclusivity within their esports program.