2017 Q2 COLLEGIATE ESPORTS REPORT: 40 SCHOOLS GIVING $4M+ IN SCHOLARSHIPS
TNL Industry Guest Post 005: James Kozachuk has been building the collegiate eSports ecosystem since 2011, with key roles at the Collegiate Starleague and the High School Starleague. He is currently a researcher at the University of Central Florida, where he studies the effects of eSports programs on students. In addition, he works with Blizzard Entertainment's collegiate eSports division, Tespa, and has provided his collegiate analytics and data services to multiple Fortune 500 companies.
TNL Take: When people talk about eSports, they often talk about its exponential growth. Usually there's a bit of an exaggeration with these numbers but collegiate eSports is no exaggeration. We've been seeing exponential growth in the scene since inception and it doesn't seem to be slowing.
We estimate 655 students from 40 universities will receive a collective $4.1M+ in scholarship tuition packages for representing their institution as a varsity player in competitive League of Legends, Overwatch, CounterStrike: Global Offensive, and other video game tournaments next year.
Send that quote over to your parents, spouse, or literally anyone you know and they will think you're crazy.
Fall 2014: Thirty Robert Morris University students were given scholarships to join the first ever varsity eSports team
Fall 2015: University of Pikeville and Maryville University join the fold
Fall 2016: 6 more universities begin offering scholarships
Fall 2017: At least 27 additional universities will recruit student athletes to play on behalf of their institution.
This brings the current total of announced eSports scholarship programs up to 38 in the US with The Next Level estimating 60 schools by the end of the year.
In addition, a number of schools have elevated their student teams to varsity status, although do not currently provide scholarships. These institutions include: Keuka College, Five Towns University, Miami University (Ohio), Principia College, University of South Carolina (Sumter), DigiPen Institute of Technology, Jarvis Christian College, University of Mount Union, Talladega College, and Illinois Wesleyan.
What's fueling the growth?
Regionality and precedence - along with of the crazy investment and allure of eSports across all facets of sports.
When each university announces their program, their press release typically refers to a local institution that has recently created a similar program. It's the reason why we see such a cluster of eSports programs at schools within the same or neighboring states.
/02 BIG NAMES
With so many similar colleges creating programs, there's bound to be a few traits that the majority of them share. In the case of collegiate eSports, that's their traditional athletic governing body.
Robert Morris University in Chicago is not part of the NCAA but they are part of the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. So is Pikeville, Kansas Wesleyan, Midland, Columbia College and so on.
So what did the NAIA do?
Well nothing really but what did someone affiliated with the NAIA do?
Create the NAC eSports, or NACE. NACE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to "promote the education and development of students through intercollegiate eSports participation."
They're looking to build the NCAA of eSports and they're doing well: two-thirds of the collegiate eSports programs are affiliated with NACE.
What's the NCAA's reaction?
But one of their biggest conferences, the Big Ten Conference, expanded on their partnership with Riot Games to provide scholarships and a competition for eight of their conference schools (Penn State and Nebraska declined to participate).
The Big Ten Network's announcement came after another large athletics conference, the Pac-12, announced their intent to add eSports to their roster.
Unfortunately it's been over a year since the Pac-12's announcement last May and no further information has materialized.
Likely tired of waiting for their conference to integrate eSports, the University of Utah announced their program a few months ago. While the school is known for it's strong athletics program, it also boasts one of the most established game development programs. Funding and support for the UoU eSports scholarships will come from this Entertainment Arts and Engineering program.
A defining characteristic of eSports is each games' accessibility to any individual that wants to compete. There's amazing organizations like AnyKey out there working with professional players, teams, and leagues out there and recently they published a white paper on diversity and inclusion in collegiate eSports.
This is critical as the collegiate eSports has an amazing opportunity to really showcase the strength of diversity within our scene. We're now starting to see some institutions build the foundations of that mission.
In April 2017, Stephen's College announced the first varsity eSports program at an all-woman's college.
Jarvis Christian College, a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas, is a member of NACE and will likely be announcing an eSports program soon.
Hopefully these two institutions will help set the precedence to keep driving diversity in collegiate eSports forward.
/04 IS COLLEGIATE ESPORTS HERE TO STAY?
To answer this question, we need to understand the motivations for why colleges would create eSports programs. While many may point to high tuition fees, and bringing in students to their campus, it's much more nuanced than that.
Colleges create programs to engage their students. To have their school represented in a new, growing, and unique field. To be able to bring down students to their amazing facilities (or eSports arena) and have that be the one thing they vividly remember from their trip.
There are colleges that are doing it really well, such as Southwest Baptist University and Columbia College (Missouri). Between the two of them they've hosted multiple events on their campus, have begun strong high school outreach, and are generally staying engaged with their community.
University of California Irvine is another great example, having run symposiums with both eSports researchers and AnyKey, organizing a woman's summer camp program for high school students aspiring to get involved in eSports, in addition to creating a certificate program for eSports Management.
In previous semesters eSports courses have been offered at Lewis University, Miami University (Ohio), and Emerson College but this is one of the first announced certificate or degree program.
Programs that stay involved are the ones we'll see alive and with the strongest legacy ten years from now.
Plus where else can Columbia College defeat Ohio State in sports?
[Edit: One year ago to the day, I wrote in The Next Level 008 about "The Collegiate eSports Opportunity". The space has clearly seen massive growth in the past year from not only the number of schools providing scholarships, but programs, courses as well as the international opportunity.
Massive thanks to James Kozachuk for doing the ardious, month long due diligence on the Collegiate eSports growth and opportunity. Amazing work]