by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Anthony Hennen enlightens Martin Center readers about college sports that have nothing to do with football or basketball.
More money flows to arenas and building upgrades. The hunt for recruits gets more competitive. University presidents brag about how their new program will make the school nationally known.
But the cause isn’t basketball or football.
This time around, the athletics arms race on campus is for “esports”—competitive video gaming. And it’s a trend driven by many small colleges hunting for students.
Though new, esports are not a niche. Within only a few years, they have gone from small, student-driven clubs to official extensions of the university. So far, 126 colleges have joined the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), a governing body for varsity-level competitions. Student-athletes play games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Counter-Strike. Games are usually team-based and can be fighting, sports, fantasy, and strategy games.
NACE membership is rapidly growing, too. Michael Brooks, NACE’s executive director, told the Martin Center that they receive six or seven inquiries every day from schools wanting to join NACE. In a year, he estimated that NACE will have 300 affiliated schools and 800 schools within five years—though NACE tends to underestimate its growth.
Esports, it seems, is here to stay.
An esports program gives colleges a branding opportunity and students a reason to choose a specific college. “That’s the first issue, recruitment and retention of new students. The second thing is definitely branding. It’s harder for smaller institutions…to really build up that brand,” Brooks said.