Will The NCAA ever fully embrace eSports?

April 27th, 2018 | by CollegeAD
Will The NCAA ever fully embrace eSports?

Playing video games is no longer only a hobby you might take part in in your mother’s basement, but has become a professional sport. The International e-Sports Federation is even trying to get eSports included in the 2024 Olympics as a demonstration event.

So, how about the NCAA? It actually seems fairly likely that eSports will be included in the NCAA in the future. In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois established a varsity esports program, including offering scholarships (in this case to League of Legends players). By 2018, the number of recognized esports programs had soared above 60, and that’s only counting programs approved by the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The scholarship amounts given are not close to those given to athletes yet, but the very top players can indeed get a full ride.

Facilities wars are also starting as schools compete for the best players. Fast computers and internet connections, not to mention fancy chairs and high resolution monitors, are becoming selling points at the same level as the sports stadium. In fact, the biggest challenge faced by college esports programs is scouting. The college levels of the sport are more advanced than at high school. Smaller schools, in particular, are pursuing esports as an esports arena is cheaper to build and maintain than a good college stadium.

Now, it’s possible esports, with their own organization, will stay separate, but the explosion of esports makes this unlikely. Esports tournaments are shown on ESPN networks and take place in specially-built arenas. In late 2017, the NCAA engaged a consulting firm to start making a proper assessment of existing esports clubs and programs, with an eye towards becoming involved. However, there may be a major obstacle. The NCAA’s amateurism rules are already being questioned by many athletes. Video gamers may be more affected by the rules because young gamers, even at the high school age, often compete in professional tournaments. To be NCAA eligible they are not allowed to accept prize money (five figure purses are not uncommon). To make things even worse, the current NCAA amateurism rules preclude “Playing with professionals,” which could be prohibitive in a world where professional and amateur status are generally not separated.

So, although it seems likely the NCAA will be involved, there may be a split between NCAA esports players who abide by their rules and those who choose schools that do not enter into NCAA programs. The latter are likely to be the better players. If the NCAA tries to enforce membership, it could delay the growth of college eSports.

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