Esports: Changing the definition of athletes in college and beyond

Esports phenomenon changing gaming stereotypes

There’s a new sport gaining popularity, and it doesn’t involve a field, a court or even a ball.

In this sport, you can catch gamers banging away at their keyboards, competing against other players in a virtual sphere.

This is the new world of esports, or electronic sports, and it is a growing phenomenon that’s attracting a new kind of athlete.

“I always say games are easy to pick-up on, difficult to master,” said Christian Anton, a third year student at the University of Denver and a member of the DU Esports Club team.

The world of esports just crowned its first world champion team, the London Spitfire, and a growing number of universities are even offering scholarships to competitive video gamers.

“It’s really becoming a mainstream activity, especially among millennials and those younger than me, like Gen Z,” Anton said.

The athletes

Anton is a computer science major at DU, with a triple minor in mathematics, history and public policy. A smart guy who argues his fellow keyboard warriors are, without question, athletes.

“The definition of what is a sport and what isn’t is rather fluid,” Anton said. “Some people say stuff like car racing is a sport, while others say, ‘All they do is turn left for about three hours.’ What you can’t argue with is it’s a task that you can improve with over time and with practice.”

At DU and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, there are now both casual and competitive esports clubs.

“It really should be considered a sport,” said Kyle Tong, a founding member of the casual esports club at CSU.

The clubs even have team captains, like Reave Hosman, for different games and skill levels.

“With every incoming freshman or first year class, we’ve grown,” Hosman said. “We’ve doubled, we’ve tripled. It really is incredible.”

Gaming is also bucking the stereotype that it’s a loner activity.

“There is a lot of camaraderie among fellow gamers,” Tong said. “And they socialize together. They’ll play a game together and they’ll go talk and say, ‘Oh, you’re this person, you’re that person. It’s nice to get to know you in person. Oh, it’s great to meet you.'”

Big business

Esports is certainly big business, inspiring new gaming centers like a huge facility in the Denver suburb of Lakewood.

“It’s big enough to be called an arena,” said James Love, director of communications for N3rd Street Gamers. “We have one in Philadelphia and one in Denver. In a nut shell, esports is competitive video gaming. I like to call it the biggest industry that nobody has heard of because it has flown under the radar for so many years.”

But those days are perhaps over. And Love said these controller commandos exhibit uncanny reflexes and more.

“There is an extraordinary amount of hand-eye coordination,” Love said. “It also takes a lot of focus. It takes breathing. So, a lot of the training that goes into traditional sports translates to the training that esports athletes go through.”

Let’s get physical

At one of Denver’s premiere one-on-one physical training facilities, The Body Shaping Company, trainer Briana Phillips appreciates the intensity of gaming.

“There’s definitely some skill involved within esports,” Phillips said.

But, she said the dedication, focus and skills of traditional athletes versus gamers are night and day.

“On a physical level, having to perform, whatever sport it is — you can’t really create that sitting down watching a screen,” Phillips said. “It’s just a different level of physical activity, dedication and passion.”

Equestrienne Natalie Anderson spends several hours a week in the gym.

“This is what helps me continue to compete at the level that I enjoy doing,” Anderson said.

She argues the stakes are simply higher for traditional athletes compared to gamers.

“I can certainly appreciate the skill it takes to master anything,” Anderson said. “But, I don’t think they’re necessarily comparable in that you’re not putting your body on the line in esports. There’s just a physical component of, if I come in and I’m not focused, I could have a serious accident or get hurt.”

While there are certainly a myriad of opinions, esports is certainly a game changer. And, it’s dispelling stereotypes about playing video games.

Dispelling the stereotypes

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“The idea that it’s a 300-pound guy in his mother’s basement or something like that? Totally wrong,” said University of Denver computer science professor and department chair Scott Leutenegger.

He said the intellectual abilities of esports athletes are unmatched and undeniable.

“Beyond fast reflexes, they work with a team, they communicate, they think ahead,” he said. “That’s called telescopic probing — if I do this and this and this. Just like chess. Thinking in multiple stages of what you are going to do, but unlike chess, you need to do it as a team. So, in many ways, it’s much more complex than chess.”

Leutenegger said gaming builds a sense of community and esports clubs can help build a university’s reputation.

“I do think more and more universities will be providing scholarships to esports athletes. Absolutely,” Leutenegger said.

Are the players nerds of jocks? He said probably both.

He also pointed out that there are thousands of job opportunities in esports game development and programming.

“These students are actually getting into a career field that is going to be rewarding to them in many ways,” Leutenegger said. “It is going to be lucrative to them.”

Women in esports

For professionals like Cait Culpepper, esports is a culture and career field that’s changing all the time.

“It’s exciting,” she said.

She said her handle name is ‘TinyCait.’

Culpepper is breaking barriers. First, as a woman in esports.

“I think there’s definitely room in this esports sphere,” she said. “We just need to make room for ourselves.”

And second, beyond competing, she’s making a name for herself as an esports event organizer.

“My dad always asked me how I was going to make money doing this,” Culpepper said. “I spent 10 years in the fashion industry in Los Angeles. Eventually, I was like – I just need to take a risk and try to get into this industry and it has worked out so far. I’m an event manager planning big, amateur, open tournaments.”

Big money

Those kinds of tournaments can pay out huge purses, similar to golf.

Love said the prize pools range from $500 to $10,000, and it’s only growing. The higher you place, the more you earn.

“Just like every sport, you have the elites,” Leutenegger said. “And you can make a lot of money.”

Beyond that, Anton said you can also pick up sponsors and some leagues are discussing annual salaries.

“They’re trying to make salaried employees where their primary income is from their sports team, like the NFL or NBA,” Anton said.

Corporations are certainly starting to take the surge in popularity seriously. In a recent tournament that aired nationwide, Coca Cola, Toyota and State Farm all paid for advertising time.

Eliminating socioeconomic barriers

The doors at N3rd Street Gamers are also wide open to the casual gamer. It’s just $10 to play for four hours.

“There’s a low barrier of entry,” said Love. “And there’s a huge demographic of gamers here. We want to provide you a safe place to game with the best equipment possible.”

Whether you consider them athletes or not, esports are certainly becoming more mainstream and popular by the minute.

“It’s not a sport in the traditional sense. We’re not physically exerting ourselves, that’s pretty obvious,” Hosman said. “But, I would say that these games, with the amount of focus and the amount of hand-eye coordination and the amount of effort that we put in, are as — if not more — mentally draining than any other sport out there that people play.”

Tong said they have the competitive spirit — their fun just happens to take place on a computer.

“What’s so wrong with that?” he said.

Anton said esports is also a great way to make new friends.

“Everybody on the team has a different role they can fill, or several different roles,” he said. “Just like you have your quarterback, your linemen and your wide receivers in football. In a game such as Overwatch, you have your team.”

Those teams include several different roles, like healers, attackers, attacks and more. The team has a goal they work toward together.

“It’s not a bunch of couch potatoes,” Leutenegger said. “It’s a bunch of active people that also do esports.”

by Russell Haythorn
PUBLISHED May 1, 2019

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Building a Nationwide High School Esports League

Over the last several months much of the media coverage on the growth of the sports has been related to what is happening in colleges and universities. While the growth in this sector is rapid, there is a similar growth pattern in high schools.

The eSports Observer notes, “High schools could prove to be a crucial formative period for any future gaming star. For many institutions, developing a dedicated facility for gaming isn’t nearly as costly as in traditional sports. “Most people are surprised by how easy to build an esports program at their school, and how affordable too” said Parnell. “The biggest onboarding process we have to overcome is the IT equipment. Really understand how the IT network is set up, unblock certain websites…ports for servers, for particular games we’re rolling out.””

The ideal scenario would be for high schools to provide centers directly for their students. Obviously, there’s a financial barrier of entry for this, which leads the way for third-party gaming center to provide the same kind of services to the high schools.

Building a gaming center in a community is more than installing technology. It is the opportunity to provide easy access to all local universities and colleges, high schools and clubs throughout the city, not to mention those who simply love gaming and are not yet directly connected to the community.

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Ohio State University eSports Program

Imagine a world-class soccer team, such as Manchester United, deciding to build a stadium in a city that has never heard of soccer. First would come curiosity, then observers, then fans … And very quickly you would not find one person in the city who did not know what soccer was. It would affect all age groups, every part of society, and the general awareness of something that was previously not known would become standard.

This is precisely what is happening with eSports.

Major entities and influencers around the world are pushing global awareness like never before. We see it with celebrities, professional athletic teams, and Rockstars.

This past week Ohio State University became the next big influencer.

Ohio State University (OSU) is developing a new comprehensive esports program that will bring together academics, collegiate competition, and multidisciplinary research. The program will span across five of the university’s colleges, with a focus on game studies and esports.

The curriculum will include undergraduate and graduate esports degrees, an elective course in esports content production, and online certification programs for specialized credentials. Part of the program extends to the OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, where prospective students will study the relationships between the brain, bodies, and behaviors of esports athletes.

The phenomenon is about to happen Ohio’s only evidence of what will happen in key cities around the world. This is not something to be relegated in the United States to New York and Los Angeles … But rather it will touch every town in one way or another.

The same is true outside of the US. What city do you live in? Have you done a quick Google search for eSports in the name of your city? You might find some interesting developments.

Continue Reading the original story in The Esports Observer.

Southern New Hampshire University Adds Esports Varsity Team

SNHU Esports Team

Sultan Akhter is an athlete, but he doesn’t play centerfield or shortstop.

The senior business major will captain the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Esports team in its inaugural season this fall.

Along with fellow students playing games like Hearthstone and Fortnite, Akhter will compete for scholarship money as a member of the team’s League of Legends squad.

“An esports team is basically a competitive video gaming team,” he said.

The program is the first competitive esports team in New Hampshire and one of only a handful in New England.

ESPN lists fewer than 100 varsity esports teams in North America, though that doesn’t include club-level teams.

Playing under the auspices of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, SNHU’s team will field squads for four games – Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends and Overwatch and battle online against teams from schools across the country.

Tim Fowler, SNHU Director of Esports, said in addition to the scholarships SNHU will offer next year, college esports teams are competing for real money to continue their education.

The esports industry as a whole has exploded in popularity, size and profitability in recent years. Forbes reported that industry-wide revenue is expected to top $900 million this year and could reach $1 billion in 2019.

“The skills you learn in esports are the same you learn in traditional sports,” Fowler, a former college lacrosse player, said. “I remember playing as a team and being a part of that community, and that’s what I’m trying to build with esports. The real core values you take away from traditional sports are the same you’re taking away from esports.”

Continue Reading the original story at SMJU.EDU.

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