At campuses across the country, schools are trying to tap into the tremendous growth in video games. College gaming is rapidly moving from a largely student-led, club-level activity to a recognised varsity sport, with some schools dangling dollars to recruit star digital athletes, building gaming arenas with rows of superfast computers, and outfitting the 21st-century tech-competitors with team uniforms. Video game players don’t throw touchdowns or dunk basketballs, but they’re beginning to get the kind of attention long reserved for the college kings of the turf and court. Hundreds of millions of gamers across the world enjoy eSports. Last year, 112 major gaming events took place, with prize money totalling $61 million, according to a market research firm.
Gamers represent a perfect student demographic for universities. They tend to excel academically, achieve high test scores and are often at their competitive prime in their late teens and early 20s. Colleges with eSports can leverage gaming’s global popularity to recruit international students. Some universities align their teams with engineering or technology programs. The skills needed to master complex video games require strategies in comparison to chess and basketball combined at light-speed. Nowadays, universities are also hiring coaches, holding three-hour practices about three times a week, and organising week-long tournaments. Competitors wear team jerseys and strap on headphones with microphones to communicate with coaches and teammates.
Competitive video-gaming seems to be built for the new normal environment of physical distancing and online networking. In a move that is well-suited to the realities of COVID-19, Northeastern University will be elevating its eSports teams to varsity status in the fall. The university will be competing in the video games Overwatch, League of Nations, Rocket League, and Hearthstone. Students may have opportunities to manage the streaming, production, and casting of Northeastern’s live gaming events.