eSports Go To College

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Your parents told you that playing video games would “rot your brain” or that “you wouldn't amount to anything” if you spent all your time playing! Well, now video games form the basis for one of the fastest growing college sports around. Okay, now you don't have an excuse for living in your parent's basement forever! Dude, I know you want to get to the next level. Now you can and if everything goes right, your parents will be your biggest fans.

The field known as eSports—competitive tournament-style video gaming—has grown by leaps and bounds, taking the world by storm while literally resting in the palm of our hands. Gaming is a huge culture, with many sub-cultures that are growing independently, changing constantly, spawning new challenges and complexities, and pushing the limits of our technology and the knowledge underpinning it. And as a global, multi-billion dollar swells around this culture, all kinds of opportunities await young competitors with specialized gaming talents.

Bucking Gaming Stereotypes

The old stereotype of the young, single, male gamer living in his parents' basement is no longer true. According to ESPN, today's gamers are much more sophisticated, usually have full time jobs and are likely parents themselves. The largest percentage of gamers are between the ages of 21 to 35. The second largest group is ages 36 to 65. And believe it or not, the smallest group is made up of players ages 10 to 20.

With more and more colleges offering both programs and scholarships for eSport competitors, this is likely only the beginning. We can anticipate that there will be a plethora of new developments coming down the pike. In this article, we'll give you an introductory glimpse into the field of eSports and how colleges, the NCAA, and talented young competitors are taking gaming to the next level.

eSportstopia

Astonishingly, more people watch eSports competitions over the course of a year than the NBA Finals, World Series or Stanley Cup Finals. The Super Bowl is still the leader in viewers, but eSports are threatening to eclipse even the big game in attracting eyes.

In 2014, 205 million people watched eSport competitions, either online at the Twitch gaming forum or in person. To say that the industry is huge worldwide is an understatement. And it's growing every year. In a typical tournament, gamers compete individually and on teams, particularly on popular game titles like DOTA 2, SMITE, League of Legends and Call of Duty. Collectively, in 2015, winners at these events earned almost as much money as the winners of that year's Super Bowl or the NBA Champions.

Get recruited

Seriously “streamer,” have you considered earning a scholarship to pay for your college? A number of colleges now offer scholarships to gamers for eSports. Of course, you need to be really, really good to obtain one of the spots on the team. Colleges are looking for that brilliant strategist, that “meta” gamer. If you want to get recruited, make sure you have your own Twitch channel and build your reputation. The strategy is not much different than recruiting for other sports scholarships, but it would appear that the “strat” (strategy) in eSports is far more advanced. Worst case scenario, you can pay for the degree with the money you win playing competitive eSports. Talented gamers can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. The best and most successful can even earn millions.

eSports Rules

Over the past two years, the eSports empire has gained considerable prominence in the sports world, with professional sports organizations in the NFL, NBA and elsewhere even investing in the development of their own eSports subdivisions. (So yes, this actually could be your ticket to a spot on an NFL roster!) In years past, gaming has crept quietly around the sports world. There are those that don't consider it a sport, but something that more closely resembles a chess club. Some “real” athletes may even resent the characterization of gaming as an actual sport.

Still, colleges are increasingly offering eSports scholarships. As a matter of fact, colleges were truly the forum for the first competitive gaming competitions:

The earliest known video game competition took place on 19 October 1972 at Stanford University for the game Spacewar. Stanford students were invited to an "Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics" whose grand prize was a year's subscription for Rolling Stone.

Of course, over time, the evolution of both gaming and the media used to compete have facilitated every high levels of competition. Such tournaments are no longer limited to a select group of technologically-inclined Ivy Leaguers. According to eSports For Gamers:

In the 1990s, many games benefited from increasing internet connectivity, especially PC games. For example, the 1988 game Netrek was an Internet game for up to 16 players, written almost entirely in cross-platform open source software. Netrek was the third Internet game, the first Internet game to use metaservers to locate open game servers, and the first to have persistent user information. In 1993 it was credited by Wired Magazine as "the first online sports game.

Of course, while technophiles are pleased to identify gaming as a sport, the real semantic difficulty remains with the NCAA's approval. Technically, gamers who earn money to compete are playing their sport professionally. This is somewhat in conflict with other sports at the college level, where getting paid as an amateur athlete makes you ineligible to play that sport in college.

This conflict was illuminated by a case from February of 2017 in which a California magistrate judge “refused to grant a request for eSports documents by a group of student-athletes suing the NCAA over its rules that prohibit universities from paying athletes more than a full grant-in-aid, which covers up to the full cost of attendance. The documents would throw a wrench in the NCAA's amateurism defense because if it was willing to pay student video game players, then there is a flimsy defense against paying student-athletes, the student-athletes had argued.”

This case demonstrates the complexity that eSports have introduced to the NCAA's rulemaking bodies. But these complexities have done nothing to slow the growth of the field. It is probable that an estimated 50 to 60 colleges will offer eSports programs in the Fall semester of 2017. The University of Utah will be the first of the Power Five schools to offer a scholarship for competitive gaming. They will have a full time coach and offer partial scholarships. This a big early step as eSports continue their evolution into a full-fledged NCAA sport. Still, the battle continues.

Where To Game

Many colleges already compete and will continue to compete, despite any ruling by the NCAA. Some colleges are offering scholarships to standout performers in the gaming arena. If interested, you will want to explore some of the leading schools in this field, including:

Many colleges are just now contemplating a jump into the land of gaming. The difficulty lies in defining a gamer as an athlete, a difficulty which creates a clear dilemma for the gamer as well. A gamer can earn a great deal of money by competing professionally. The gaming industry itself is growing bigger and more profitable every day. The question of how best define who is considered an amateur gamer is a murky one. Because you are a student, earning a scholarship will almost surely limit your ability to earn mega bucks.

Other collegiate sports opportunities are limited and controlled by the NCAA. At what point do the same limits apply to gamers? And does the gamer belong under the umbrella of the athletic department at a school, or in the science and technology dominion?

Determining the best way for the collegiate establishment to proceed will present some challenging practical and ethical questions.

eSport goes to college

Just as eSports are increasingly competitive, so too is the battle to be noticed by colleges. Needless to say, those with amazing gaming skills will shine. Others may be fundamentally sound or have budding talent on the verge of greatness. Coaches will have team positions to fill and games to win. As with traditional sports, colleges will still have to take a player's grades and attitude into consideration during the recruitment process. Can the gamer handle the pressure? Can he or she perform coming off of the bench? (Indeed, you still could get “ganked” at anytime during the recruiting process and others will try to “nerf” you. The goal, like any other sport, is not to get “rekt.”)

In the world of gaming, like any other profession, you have a window of years when you are at your best. Right now, your eyesight is good, your reflexes are sharp, and your creative problem-solving skills are unmatched. You reign supreme! You should ask yourself, what is your playing time expectancy at this high level? If you don't turn pro now, will you still be as good in four years (after you complete college)? There was a time when NBA players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant may have dreamed of going to college, but with the kind of money they stood to make, going pro early was kind of a no-brainer. This suggests that the answers to the questions above will be different for every player.

Take the controls!

Now that you know a little bit more about eSports, take some time to digest this information. Gamers and parents of student-gamers alike could find themselves at a crossroads. If you choose the right way forward, this may well be a path to a college scholarship.

Now that you have the controls, take the time to troll the world of eSports for information. Learn how to increase your scholarship chances. Learn how to get the attention of colleges. Your “Twitch” channel is a great place to start.

If gaming is your thing, don't miss out. The college opportunities are mounting.

Quick Facts

2017: Top Competitive Gaming Titles

1. Dota 2
2. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
3. League of Legends
4.Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
5. Halo 5: Guardians
6. Heroes of the Storm
7. StarCraft II
8. Smite
9. Madden NFL 2017
10. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
11. Overwatch
12. FIFA '17

eSports 2017: Key Stats

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