Esports Are Becoming Increasingly Relevant in Universities and Beyond

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Jessica Gang
Opinions Editor

Are video games a waste of time? According to the growing number of students across the United States that possess esports scholarships, the answer is a resounding no. Competitive multiplayer video games, known colloquially as “esports,” are becoming more and more popular at college campuses, where high school students can compete for a limited number of scholarships.

Universities that offer esports scholarships tend to classify gaming in a few different ways: some colleges house their esports programs in the engineering department, others in the design department, and, most controversially, some universities have chosen to house their esports under the umbrella of the athletics department. While unconventional, esports has carved out a name for itself in the sports stratosphere, and should be respected as a sport, but also kept in a league of its own.

The National Association of Collegiate Esports has given out an estimated $16 million in esports scholarships over the past two years, but even in spite of esports’ growing popularity, the sport has faced backlash from critics who argue that it should not be held to the same standard as more traditional athletic sports.

In response to this criticism, Kurt Melcher argues that “the games … in the collegiate sphere have real depth … and require strategic teamwork and … mastery to be successful.” Melcher is the head of the esports program at Robert Morris University Illinois. Esports at Robert Morris is housed in the athletics department, and gamers attend regular practice and have access to athletic trainers, just as other athletes in the department do.

While this backlash is understandable, it seems to stem from an instinctive fear of the unknown more than any real dislike for the sport itself. Esports doesn’t contain the traditional physicality that we associate with athletics, which is why we don’t think of it as an athletic sport.

Because of this, it probably shouldn’t be categorized as such. But in the same way that digital art, multimedia studies, and more are fusing media with traditional subjects, esports has the potential to change the way that we interact with technology.

On Nov. 23, an article published in The Independent revealed that the U.S. army is branching into video games and esports in particular, as they aim to increase steadily declining military recruitment.  In an announcement posted via Reddit, the US military stated that they would be putting together a military-branded esports team, made up of active duty personnel, reservists, and veterans. The team would travel to various esports competitions and would be shadowed by military recruiters.

While it’s clear that esports doesn’t require the same amount of physicality that traditional sports does, it’s also apparent that there is a very real use for esports in the real world. And if the words of Kurt Melcher are to be believed, it’s possible that esports is even more uniquely valuable than other traditional disciplines taught at universities.

At UCSB, the gaming and esports community might not be as prevalent as it is at other schools (UC Irvine, for example, recently launched a state-of-the-art gaming arena equipped with high-end PCs, a stage, and a live webcasting studio), but the Gaucho gaming community is alive and well.

Interested video game players can check out the Gaucho Gaming Facebook group, an open group where members can post about their favorite games, be alerted to various internship opportunities, and get informed about volunteer opportunities and club events.