Collegiate eSports On The Rise
eSports programs across the nation take shape
By: Sierra Acklin
11 April 2019
College eSports scholarships are rapidly paving a way for a new form of competitive sports and a learning opportunity–and it’s made its way to Hawaii.
Hawaii Pacific University's (HPU) has a successful scholarship program and competitive arena. Now, the University of Hawaii at Manoa plans to roll out a program of their own.
Nyle Sky Kauweloa, a PhD student teaching an eSports course at University of Hawaii at Manoa, founded UH’s first gaming club, Manoa Academy of Gamers (MAG). Kauweloa stated that an eSports program is coming soon.
“The ultimate goal here is to look at at all the different ways gaming is this enabling platform is for students,” said Kauweloa. “Because on campus there are a lot of gamers.”
The first eSports scholarship program started less than last five years ago and now, hundreds of universities have full-fledged programs. Some schools are even preparing to debut a new undergraduate major in coming semesters.
But despite mounting support, eSports still has to shake long-standing stigmas against the gaming community and its players, according to Kathy Chung, Assistant Director of the eSports program at University of California, Irvine (UCI). Since the creation of what is thought to be the first video game, Pong, games have faced accusations from organizations and politicians arguing that gaming encourages violence, wastes time, and can develop into an addiction.
Over the years, gaming has been associated with an unappealing, “nerdy” trope that has been often been perpetuated through pop culture. Some video games have even been accused of increasing aggression and violence in players. In 2018, Donald Trump associated the recent string of school shootings to violent video games.
One of the aims of collegiate eSports is to show how it can benefit students beyond the competition.
Many burgeoning programs emphasize the opportunities that programs like this can provide in the collegiate sphere, such as diversity and inclusion, new student jobs and career opportunities, new forms of student skill building and even advances in medical research.
“There’s a lot of career skills built from eSports such as critical thinking, team building, time management, reaction time, all those types of things plus a whole bunch more,” said Reed Pasatiempo, HPU’s arena manager. “Those are real skill sets students can put in their resumes.”
On top of these skills, students and faculty involved in these programs want people to know that eSports is just that – an actual sport. They believe being a member of an eSports team requires time, dedication, and hard work just like being part of any other athletic team.
“There’s no reason our university shouldn’t reach out and support them because eSports is an athletic event like any other,” said Deborah Grzybowski, faculty adviser to the eSports initiative at Ohio State University (OSU).
Prospective members must go through tryouts to earn their place on the team. Once they’re on the team, students are subjected to the same guidelines as all other collegiate sports. Students are expected to follow different physical regimes as required by each university. At HPU, students are expected to show up for 20 hours of practice a week and maintain a solid GPA.
Athletes compete at their own home arenas and travel for ‘away games’ at other schools. They can also be drafted into professional leagues.
The introduction of collegiate eSports has opened the door for more students to be involved in college athletics. Giving students new opportunities to get involved helps bring schools together, according to .
“You have your teams and your logo wear and your merchandise and support – going out to watch in person or online,” Grzybowski said. “In all aspects of it, it is a sport.”
OSU is taking it further by beginning medical research on their gaming team and the potential for video games to help in the medical realm. The university is also developing an esport undergraduate major that they hope to begin in the fall.
“Ohio State has a human performance consortium, and they are looking at studying the esport athletes, the brain body connection and behaviors, what’s the best nutrition, the best exercise routine,” said Grzybowski. “What’s happening in their brain when they are playing, especially under stressful conditions. No one has looked at that before.”
eSports initiatives are also being introduced beyond universities. High schools across the nation have also taken note of rising success of eSports programs and the opportunities such programs provide for students.
The Hawaii High School Athletic Association recently launched its pilot program, Season Zero, in partnership with the official high school eSports league, PlayVS. Through this program, local students in 23 high schools across the state will compete against each other in popular eSports games.
UCI’s program recently helped with the formation of the National American Scholastic eSports Federation (NASEF), a federation dedicated to promoting and assisting in the creation of eSports clubs in high schools.
A key focus of their program of UCI is to expand their inclusion and diversity to marginalized groups, stated Chung.
“One of the things colleges are able to do since they already have structures is to build more outreach programs and encourage more people to get involved in eSports,” Chung said.
“There’s so many ways people can get involved in the industry that might already be tied to their career but a lot of people don’t see that,” said Chung. “A lot of people just see the five-six guys on the screen, all white or asian males, and imagine they don’t have a space in eSports.”
Through high school outreach, universities are using eSports programs as a new way to encourage diversity and inclusivity by showing incoming students that there are gaming-centric communities and opportunities in their schools.
The hype around eSports has presented students with new avenues into game development, content creation, and the potential to even progress into professional gaming if they have the skill. Professional teams have already started to approach students from colleges such as UCI for drafting into major leagues.
League of Legends is the biggest competitive game available, with most universities starting their venture into eSports by creating a League of Legends team. Other games, such as Overwatch, spread slowly as programs continue to grow and flourish. While the current game leagues available are limited to more popular games such as these, the variety of games is growing quickly as eSports becomes more popular.
“It’s really about educating the community. It’s being able to have a presence in the education world,” said Pasatiempo. “This is not just a hobby, not just to kill time. This is something my child, my sibling, my cousin, really can get something out of.”