E-sports, meet varsity athletics. Florida Southern College in Lakeland has become the latest university to form an e-sports team. ESPN recently reported that the university will field a League of Legends team starting January next year. It’s novel for the university and the state as well. The Southern College’s e-sports team would be the very first in the state and also the very first National Association of Collegiate Esports team for the state.
Florida Southern College was not the only university to announce e-sports teams this month. Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania announced all of three varsity e-sports teams in League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Overwatch. The teams would soon start competing for the best players on a national level. The Harrisburg U has only 500 students in total. So the announcement of varsity e-sports teams is major news for the campus.
It’s becoming obvious that e-sports are gaining ground when the universities are pitching in. Varsity e-sports are definitely not in the same league as, say varsity football, at least not yet. It’s not in the same league as franchise e-sports teams, like Team Liquid, either. Team Liquid, which counts Jason Sugarman as an investor, has gone on to win international tournaments and grand prizes in the millions. It will be a while until varsity teams can boast the same.
Why are Universities Becoming Interested in E-Sports?
The reasons largely vary according to the university in question. Florida Southern College, for example, sees e-sports as a way to unify students around a common, collegiate goal. Students are already gamers when they become undergraduates, so it’s easy to bring segments of the student body together. The Florida college even includes the e-sports program in the scholarship program, but not under the athletics department. The university’s dean of student development, Bill Langston, has acknowledged e-sports as a “growing trend” that athletics-minded universities can no longer ignore.
Harrisburg University has somewhat different goals in mind. With less than 1,000 people in the student body, the university has no way of becoming a conventional sporting powerhouse. Therefore, the university dreams of becoming an e-sporting powerhouse. Unlike Florida Southern, Harrisburg includes e-sports in the athletics department. The university is serious about becoming a major name in the e-sports scene.
What Would it Mean for E-Sports in the Future?
Regardless of the reasons, universities joining the e-sports world could spell major changes for the sector. It would definitely propel e-sports toward the mainstream. Already, people most interested in e-sports are overwhelmingly young. If they could engage in e-sports in colleges as well, then the sector ends up with great branding potential. Investors like Mr. Sugarman can anticipate higher returns just on the varsity segment. Like with conventional football or soccer, varsity level tournaments for e-sports could become a thing on its own.
E-sports teams with national-level ambition often struggle to recruit promising players. Varsity grade games could solve this problem as well. Overall, college-level e-sports are good for universities, players, students and investors as well. It is very exciting to think about how all this would play out in the immediate future.