When you think of a sport, do video games come to mind? I ask because of the recent growth in a field called e-sports, a shortening for electronic sports. Specifically, it refers to games that are organized competitively, whether individually or as a team, against players in local, national and even international setting. In reality, this can mean just about any game—even with casual competition among friends.
First, by my usage of the word “accessible,” I acknowledge access to video games means a number of privileges and comforts already, such as the equipment or computers to play, the electricity and potentially the Internet access to enjoy such a game. What I mean by accessibility is that games like “Hearthstone” are casually paced, require just about any working PC, Mac or tablet and can be played for free whether rain or shine. Some games require a team to play or some other commitment, but what I mean is that there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t at least try these games and see if they like them before dismissing them as not worth the investment.
By describing this accessibility I also lend to the diversity within e-sports. Some games are played alone, on a casual pace. Others are fast-paced and team-oriented. The term for one extremely popular category is Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) which includes games you may have heard before, such as “DOTA 2” and “League of Legends.” By extension, perhaps e-sports can even include other competitive aspects, such as how quickly someone can complete a game from beginning to end. The fact that one can compete with not just others, but also themselves opens up many diverse avenues for competitive gameplay, and adds to the many ways one can get in a variety of games and game modes.
In terms of popularity, I’m not talking about small fish either. Last year’s Electronic Sports League (ESL) in March 2014 yielded a live audience of 73,000 for four days in Poland, with millions more watching online. In terms of prize money, “DOTA 2” and “League of Legends” collectively generate more than $57 million annually among thousands of players. I don’t think the audience or the money is what ought to make e-sports significant among a collegiate audience, nor would such huge money and audiences exist in a collegiate circuit, but it does represent the significance these games are gaining worldwide.
Two institutions of higher education, Robert Morris University and The University of Pikeville, offer scholarships to students who join their school as competitive League of Legends players. These institutions are not well known or ranked among their peer groups, and the approach to offer gaming scholarships seems, to me, like an opportunity to build interest among a small, but rapidly growing group of competitive players. Yet another example of this evidence comes from the U.S. State Department, who is responsible for issuing visas to foreign players. These competitive players, when they enter the U.S., are given visas just like those issued to foreign athletic players in other sports and competitive fields.
E-sports have their roots in gaming from as far back as the 1970s, with competitive arcade and early competitive PC gaming. It still has a long way to evolve before it could perhaps be something that an organization like the NCAA ought to identify and structure. I see the NCAA as the key organization especially because of scholarships, which without regulation and policy can end up varying greatly among institutions and have a detrimental effect on the way students perceive recruitment for these competitive events.
These are all things I wonder about regarding the evolution of e-sports as it begins to focus on collegiate spaces. I think we should have a clearer structure to controlling these factors like scholarships and recruitment, as well as general organization to promote the many types of e-sports and ways people can enjoy these games competitively. As far as I know, NSO is the only Vassar organization promoting such competitiveness, though this would vary from institution to institution. I highly encourage others to try at least some sort of competitive gaming, and I also hope a clearer regulatory structure emerges at the collegiate level in the coming years.