What exactly is eSports? Why is the nicest and one of the most expensive rooms on campus the eSports arena? People can make money off this?
For many, the world of eSports is puzzling. However, others, with a quick mind for video games and hours upon hours of practice, can finesse their way into fame and wealth in this fast-growing, profitable industry.
Students at the university are taking advantage of this growing area of interest.
Years ago, students formed the Video Game Tournament Club, a Registered Student Organization (RSO) “dedicated to organizing video and computer game tournaments for students.” As of last year, the university has had the top players in the club and other interested students try out for university-backed competitive eSports teams.
Murphy Dichiaro, volunteer coach for the university’s Hearthstone eSports team, explained that the Video Game Tournament Club had pushed for years for university-recognized eSports teams because without backing, the club could not compete in certain competitions.
He said that the university became interested recently when they realized other schools were creating eSports programs and even giving scholarships for eSports gamers to attend the schools. Additionally, when the club Overwatch team finished eighth in the nation and high school seniors began asking about eSports in their applications, the university began paying more attention to the potential of eSports.
The university then designated four official eSports teams: Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League.
After the eSports arena opened in the Spring of 2020, the teams began to practice and compete from there.
Although the eSports arena remains open to students, the fact that many of the eSports students are not on campus and not able to meet in the arena has posed certain challenges for the teams.
Dichiaro said that the Hearthstone team has not had to deal with internet reliability issues because the game is less time based but that there have been internet problems with players in the League of Legends and Overwatch teams.
“When students are playing at home on not as [capable] hardware, and their internet isn’t as good as other people’s, it’s kind of hard to figure out how good a person actually is,” Dichiaro said. “We have a huge problem with one of our League of Legends players where his at-home internet has him constantly lagging and being cut off … whereas when he plays at UD, he’s one of the top 1,000 players in North America.”
Despite the challenges, the university has relatively high rankings for all their eSports teams. The Rocket League team made it to the quarterfinals in the Electronic Gaming Federation power series in Spring 2020, and the League of Legends team made it to the finals of the Collegiate Star League. Additionally, the Hearthstone team went into the playoffs as the only undefeated team.
This season, eSports teams also fared well with top-five finishes and undefeated or nearly undefeated seasons. They also played against the College of William and Mary earlier in the semester in what the university dubbed a “Homecoming Challenge,” to make up for the football game that would have been played against the college.
While the arena and the “Homecoming Challenge” may have brought the attention of the student body to eSports, there are several misconceptions that still exist about eSports that the players addressed.
“People think, ‘Oh, you aren’t an actual sport, or you don’t have to practice to be good at it,’” Dichiaro said. “Some people I know practice eight hours a day, which is similar to when you compare another sport … I remember my sophomore year, just at the club level, we had one video practice where we were watching replays for four hours straight.”
Jake Brandvold, manager of the League of Legends team, added that people often stereotype eSports players.
“I think that when a lot of people think about someone who plays video games a lot, [they] think of the stereotypical person, but I feel like that’s not really the case anymore because everyone plays video games nowadays,” Brandvold said. “Especially on a team, where it’s a team game … you have to work together [and] communication is a big aspect of that … Even if you’re a great player, in any sport, if you’re not a good teammate, I think it really holds you back.”
Dichiaro emphasized the importance of teamwork in the games.
“It’s like an actual physical sport, where if you’re a quarterback on the football team, who do you trust to throw the ball to?” Dichiaro said. “I kind of compare it to … saying, ‘Hey Marcus, take the mouse and play.’”
Sophomore Rocket League player Kevin Kendall addressed the profitability of eSports, a fact that often surprises people without knowledge of the industry.
“I had a communications class last year, I did a presentation about [eSports] and half the class was surprised that people got paid for playing [it],” Kendall said.
In terms of the profitability for the collegiate gamers, if they win a tournament they will often receive a prize of scholarship money. If the money is not earmarked for scholarship however, the university, according to Kendall, will take a cut of the prize.
However, the players emphasized that winning these tournaments can often prove rather difficult because of the fact that some colleges throughout the country recruit the nation’s top players and give them full scholarships. Approximately $15 million per year in scholarships are awarded to eSports players by 200 U.S. colleges and universities.
University officials, according to Dichiaro, have discussed and considered eSports scholarships. In the future they may roll them out, but for now, they are still assessing what the budget permits and how big of a draw eSports might be for the school.
“If they do any sort of scholarship for players, I feel like we could be a top college,” Kendall said. “All the colleges that do scholarships they’re at the top: Akron, [the Ohio State University and the University of Central Florida.] Akron, they get kids that go there just because they want to get good at Rocket League even if they’re not on scholarship because they’re the best team in Rocket League.”
Much of the discussion about eSports nationally and at the university centers around growth potential and profitability. However, the sense of community that this activity fosters is not lost on the players.
Even though COVID-19 has presented some difficulties in terms of team bonding and support, in Brandvold’s opinion, the eSports community remains a haven for students trying to navigate their way through college.
“I did it [in order to meet people] because going to college for the first time, you want to get involved in different hobbies and clubs,” Brandvold said. “And I thought this is something that I’m interested in, [something] that I like to do; it would be cool to meet people that are into the same thing.”