Video games have come a long way over the years, developing radically in terms of graphics, content, and gameplay. With rapid improvement in hardware and online capabilities, many video games have also become highly competitive and lucrative, with some players forming careers out of their gameplay. Electronic sports (or “esports”) events have started drawing huge audiences in recent years thanks to online streaming.
Every year sees an increase in the popularity of esports. Many universities have decided to embrace this growing trend and are now, in an unprecedented move, are offering athletic scholarships for esports.
Not every type of video game currently has a place in university esports and not every gamer can earn a scholarship, but honing video game skills could well become a viable option for many seeking higher education.
Traditional athletics have favoured the powerful, the fleet-footed, and the fit. As society transitions increasingly towards digital interactions, there are other attributes which play a part in popular new forms of competition.
Dexterity, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and strategic intelligence are important in a great deal of sports, but esports highlight those skills and give opportunities to players who might not fare so well on the football field or basketball court. This fosters competition in a growing arena while offering a greater diversity of players. According to NewZoo, esports is expected to become a 1.5 billion dollar industry by 2020 as it continues to grow by over 40 percent annually. Some are speculating that esports will eventually surpass traditional sports in terms of revenue and public interest.
Robert Morris University in Illinois became the first college in the USA to offer scholarships for e-athletes in 2014, but others caught on very quickly. Organisations like NACE, (the National Association of Collegiate Esports), in the USA have overseen the legitimisation of esports competitions in and between various college teams.
Today, schools like University of California, Lourdes University, and the University of Jamestown offer scholarships for competitive gamers. As competition becomes more intense, schools want to be sure to attract the best and brightest players to their teams. There are organisations and scholarships set up to support students across Asia and Europe, with many keen to keep up with the lucrative trend.
Online multiplayer games are currently at the forefront of competitive electronic sports. The most popular and lucrative games include Fortnite, Overwatch, and League of Legends. Because there’s a focus on multiplayer games and teamwork, e-athletes are expected to practice regularly and train with their teams. E-athletes who fail to meet their training schedules or maintain their grades can lose their scholarships, so these are far from a free ride. In short, universities take their video games incredibly seriously and expect players to maintain the highest of standards. In South Korea, recent problems with the exploitation and overworking of e-athletes have necessitated the passing of regulations including a minimum wage and contracts.
These scholarships by no means reward the casual playing of video games and competition is fierce to obtain and maintain a place on a university team. For some players, those with a lot of skill and a fair share of luck, their passion could become their ticket to an education and a career.