Over the past decade, colleges and universities have widely adopted esports. Some have even incorporated esports into curriculums and degree majors. In many schools, significant time and dedication have gone into developing highly competitive teams. Here's a layout what has shaped gaming in Higher Education current landscape and a few projections for what's next.
The most significant development in recent years has been the formation of varsity esports programs. Robert Morris University was the first to do so in 2014, and since hundreds of others have followed suit. Many schools now offer scholarships for gamers, just as they do for athletes in traditional sports. In fact:
Scholarships have continued to grow. If you are searching for one yourself, there are several scholarships still open for applications.
Academic recognition has come in the form of dedicated esports degrees. The meteoric uptick in the esports industry has made it harder for institutions to ignore the merits of studying esports management or gaming business. While scholarships elevate perspectives in the eyes of those recipients, academic certification proves that this budding industry will remain relevant.
Another important development has been the establishment of governing bodies to regulate competitive play. Since the early days collegiate esports, there have been several restructures and changes of the guard. TESPA for some time was a forerunner, having more than 270 chapter members and 1,300 schools that participated in their tournaments. Then suddenly, on the heels of the pandemic outbreak, that organization fizzled.
Others have proven their staying power. The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was founded in 2016 and has since grown to include over 170 member institutions. NACE oversees collegiate esports competitions and provides resources and support. Colleges haven't gone unnoticed by the rest of the gaming industry. Major game publishers, notably Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment, have facilitated their own collegiate leagues and competitions.
Why not the NCAA? In 2019 the NCAA made the deliberate decision to not take on a regulatory or otherwise official role when it came to esports. The primary reason for this decision was actually as a courtesy. According to Kurt Melcher, who was involved in these conversations, the NCAA's main hang up was "the fact that gamers might come to college after earning money, have a personal brand already built in their streaming following, and could easily have a sponsorship deal in place…prior to accepting an NCAA scholarship." Another example of how the organization of esports differs from traditional sports and complexities involved with this latest frontier.
There is still a chance for institutional shake ups to happen in the future. Further efforts to improve structure might permit a new entity to emerge as a better solution.
Colleges and universities are also investing in dedicated esports facilities, providing students with the space and equipment they need to practice and compete. These facilities often include state-of-the-art gaming PCs, streaming setups, and spectator areas, creating a professional atmosphere for competitive gaming. A key to producing this infrastructure lies in the forging of partnerships and sponsorships.
There are still many challenges to be addressed. A foundational issue is the lack of diversity in esports, particularly in terms of gender and race. Many esports teams and players are still dominated by white, male players, and efforts are needed to create a more inclusive environment for all students. In part, this issue stems from socioeconomic factors that inhibit access to technology, since those who've had more access to quality gaming set ups are naturally more likely to become top competitors than those who haven't.
Another challenge is the need for continued investment in programs. While many universities and colleges have embraced esports, others have been slower to recognize the true value of gaming. As esports continues to grow in popularity, it will become important for colleges and universities to invest to remain competitive and provide students with necessary resources.