NBC News did a pretty solid report on the booming collegiate esports industry yesterday, and touched on the fact that more kids out there with spectacular gaming talents could be actually looking at scholarships for big-time schools.
Esports event finals have already sold out the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden in an hour, and there’s absolutely no sign of slowing down. I already talked about this in an earlier blog, and it seems like some of my premonitions are coming true. Glenn Platt, an Armstrong Chair in Interactive Media Studies and faculty director of the varsity esports team at Miami University in Ohio said in that NBC article above that most people have no idea how big esports actually is, but now that big investors are realizing the potential billion-dollar industry that awaits, they’re dumping shitloads of money into it.
A new booming industry means new jobs, new opportunities, and new career paths for kids who might otherwise end up not seeing as much of a leg up as, say, athletically gifted students who grow up in a family that pushes them towards a D1 collegiate program. Marketers, developers, shoutcasters, and the players themselves are finding that their abilities are becoming more and more desirable as investors find out just how much money they can juice out of the gaming and esports industry. And why the fuck not? I know guys who’ve been in top-tier raiding guilds in World of Warcraft since 2004 who’ve arguably put more time into their craft than some athletes have on a practice field. And this is no slight against athletes – who sacrifice a LOT to get where they are, but I think the comparison is more than fair, and the compensation is beginning to look similar too.
Though esports often fall under the umbrella of traditional athletics on college campuses, there are some major differences. For one, unlike traditional college athletics, there is no rule preventing a professional from joining a college team. The NCAA doesn’t regulate esports, though according to Platt, these sorts of conversations are happening.
Flash forward to Robert Morris University in Illinois, who was the first school to recruit and provide financial incentives to students for an esports league. Kurt Melcher, the school’s director of esports (what a fucking title), put a proposal together and made it happen. Now, in 2017, they’ve got around 90 students that’ll be playing five different titles for a pretty healthy scholarship – 70% paid tuition and all they’ve gotta do is maintain a 2.0 GPA.
There’s a lot more to this than just promoting the esports industry, too. In a country where politicians love to talk about how we’re falling behind other major nations in maths and sciences, esports scholarships directly taps into the same vein of prospects that math and science scholarships would. Show me a brilliant mathematician who hasn’t picked up a single video game controller or rolled a single die on a Dungeons & Dragons table, and I’ll show you some oceanfront property in Idaho I’m trying to sell.
I’m all for this, and if you’re a gamer, a fan of esports, or just someone who likes to root for other people – you should be too.