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Students and their coach at an esports practice
  • 2020-02-06
  • Anthony Arnone

Challenger Approaching! Collegiate Esports Come to Brockport

Esports is the latest craze, and SUNY Brockport is getting in on the action with its newest club sport.

Continuing to gain investments from prominent figures in the sports and entertainment industries is a billion-dollar industry on the rise: esports. This form of competitive, organized, and frequently team-based video gaming is making its way into colleges across the country.

SUNY Brockport is getting in on the action.

On November 7, the College’s Club Sports Executive Committee approved the Esports Club as its newest club sport. The club is currently practicing in the Seymour College Union, room 228. Sixty students have already expressed interest in joining, and members hope that number will increase as awareness grows.

Abiel Payano, graduate assistant for the Office of Campus Recreation, is a driving force behind the club. He served as the president of the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) esports club during its transition from a student organization to a club sport. 

“I am extremely excited for this opportunity. We already made the first step at Brockport getting the club officially recognized as a club sport,” Payano said. “The number of students in our organization doubled after we became a recognized club sport at UCF.”

A Retention and Recruitment Tool

Due to the team-based community atmosphere that surrounds competitive gaming, esports have become a natural fit for colleges and institutions to begin incorporating into their co-curriculum. Research conducted by Director of Campus Recreation Scott Haines shows that club sports invoke a sense of belonging in Brockport students who participate in them — and esports may already reach an audience that is searching for that presence online.

“Most of these students are already in their residence hall or at home playing these games, and that is not going to change,” said Haines. “Creating an environment on campus where they can play will hopefully give them a sense of belonging at Brockport.”

According to Haines, students in a club sport are 20 percent more likely to feel a sense of belonging/association to their institution compared to students who are not in a club sport. Collin Parks, vice president of the Esports Club, has already felt an impact.

“I transferred to Brockport last semester and all my friends on campus I met through the club,” Parks said. “I’m excited to meet more people with similar interests as the club grows, and I think it’s amazing that a small group of people with similar interests can create an open, digital space for communication and entertainment.”

The esports profession has attracted young students studying the fields of science, technology, education, and mathematics, leading to an increased number of gamers majoring in the STEM fields. According to the director of collegiate esports at Riot Games, 62 percent of students participating in their program are in the STEM majors, which is nearly double the national average of STEM majors at 36 percent.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) established RIT Esports nearly six years ago. In that time, the club has won five national championships across three different games while growing from 30 students to nearly 1,500.

RIT Esports is more than an avenue for competitive gaming — it is a dynamic community.

“Students come from all majors at the institution to put their talents to work,” said Chad Weeden, director of RIT Esports. “We have computer science students building our website, broadcasting students announcing our games, and marketing students advertising and selling merchandise. These students have created their own community that mimics an athletic department at most institutions.”

According to Weeden, the club has sold more than $25,000 worth of merchandise since 2017 and earned $70,000 in tournament winnings. The merchandise sales help the club fund travel for tournaments and other expenses, including new equipment, which creates a self-sustaining economy.

RIT Esports also serves as a recruitment tool. High-school students often join the club’s Discord server, through which they commonly ask how they can get involved with the club once admitted. This phenomenon is not limited to RIT, as many institutions are now using esports to recruit students. Shortly after Ashland University featured its esports program on “Good Morning America,” the institution received 500 applications from prospective students.

Business is Booming

Competitive gamers are playing popular video games that are most commonly played at home. Professional matches are held in arenas with a production team that broadcasts to online platforms and often mirrors traditional sports broadcasts.

The market for esports has seen a boom over the last few years, culminating in more than $1 billion earned globally in 2019. The industry has embraced a model similar to traditional sports, which led the 2018 League of Legends World Championship to just shy of 100 million unique viewers. That surpassed the 98.2 million viewers that would tune in for Super Bowl LIII two months later.

The League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) and Overwatch League (OWL) consist of a seasonal format that culminates in a postseason playoffs and a national/international championship, much like professional sport leagues. The LCS announced its upcoming season would feature Monday Night League, a premier broadcast in which two of the league’s most prominent matches will play in primetime on Monday nights.

While the professional esports scene is established, collegiate esports is still struggling to unify under a single governing body. Established game developers in the field have collaborated with leagues such as Collegiate Starleague and Tespa to provide a level of legitimacy and support to the structure of the tournaments, but dozens of other leagues are cropping up in an attempt to gain a foothold in the market while they still can.

“Right now, we have a sort of Wild West atmosphere where many different leagues are organizing tournaments that aren’t really promoted or where the schedule isn’t communicated well,” said Weeden.

The NCAA was the natural choice to take up the mantel of governing and organizing competitions for collegiate esports, but it faced multiple factors it had not dealt with in the past.

Unlike traditional sports, corporations own the video games, which gives them the power to change the rules overnight without any input from the NCAA. Gamers are also able to market their personality online, where they can earn sponsorships and join professional organizations, which is against current guidelines set by the NCAA. Common issues with video games, such as violence and misogyny, were also factored into their decision.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors decided to table the issue indefinitely on April 30, 2019. While this ruling may negatively affect the success of collegiate esports, many players and coaches involved at the collegiate level feel the opposite, as a change to the current model could be divisive for the young talent.

What’s Next?

The Esports Club at Brockport will move into its newly renovated space located in the lower level of the Union by Fall 2020. This new space will be designed with competitive esports in mind, including the layout, furniture, and gaming equipment including consoles, PCs, headsets, mice, keyboards, and more — some of which the club already owns.

“We have already bought six Alienware computers, gaming mice, headsets, and consoles,” Haines said. “The club has reserves left in their budget to work on furnishing and other necessities for their new location as we work toward getting the space up and running.”

Students, faculty, and staff members who are interested in joining or getting involved with the Esports Club can reach out to Payano or join the club’s Discord. The club is currently working on recruiting students, gathering interest in which video games students would like to compete in, and hosting tryouts for teams.

Esports computer screen

Last Updated 7/29/21

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