Walk into nearly any dorm and you’re guaranteed to see a few things. Hopefully, there will be some students studying, probably there will be dirty laundry and unwashed dishes, and certainly, someone will be playing video games. The pastime of student-athletes, regular kids, and professional gamers is inescapable, and if athletic departments want to stay ahead on a rapidly growing trend that has a low-overhead and massive fan appeal, perhaps it is time they took a hard look at what truly divides esports from the other programs under their purview. Chances are, upon examination, they might find there isn’t much separation.
While many in the AD community might scoff at the idea of considering esports as just another team in their department, the number of colleges participating in esports continues to swell and a national governing body (NACE) has been created. If one can look past the bias that initially turns-off many in athletic departments, there is actually little more than semantics dividing esports from their more traditional counterparts. Here are some common nitpicks regarding the “sports” in “esports.”
STRATEGY AND POSITION-BASED PLAY
Contrary to common thought, esports are not based on a single player versus a computer. Instead, the commonly accepted platforms for competitive play are multiplayer endeavors that utilize a team working in sync to achieve a goal against another team. As such, there are commonly accepted positions in the esports realm, and colleges can and will recruit based on positional needs.
TRAINING AND COACHING
Esports, like any competitive team sport, requires practice, coaching, and physical training. There are training facilities (like this recent one built by the Sacramento Kings) where players hone both their in-game strategies as well as physical techniques for optimal execution. Coaching is at a premium as well, as leagues eventually had to limit the amount of staff single teams could employ on gameday. These coaches are oftentimes employed full-time by teams and are responsible for everything from training regimens to tape-study and game planning. There are even physical therapists on staff for assisting with stretching, posture, and injuries.
AN ENGAGED AUDIENCE
Although League of Legends, DOTA, and Overwatch, the standards in the esports competitive community, are not the most well-known games in the States, the notion that esports are purely played by gamers, for gamers, turns out to be inaccurate. According to Business Insider, attendance and viewership at 2017’s Intel Extreme Masters event broke records and posted stunning numbers. With nearly 200,000 fans attending the event and surrounding festival and another 43 million unique online viewers, universities would be remiss to think esports don’t have mainstream appeal. There is even daily fantasy esport sites where fans can choose their own lineups of professional players.
For forward-thinking athletic departments, the lines dividing traditional sports and esports must be evaluated. In reality, the notion that a great deal separates these two branches of competition is largely semantic and continuing to not engage might be missing a tremendous growth opportunity for ADs.