eSports at UON: Will we ever have video gamer scholarships?
With eSports becoming more popular, some universities across the world are offering scholarships for eSports athletes. Olivia Wilson-Wheeler investigates what possibility there is for official eSports teams at UON.
Gaming is a valuable addition to so many people’s lives, including my own. It has become a massive community and industry. Options are endless: you can make friends, you can get satisfaction from banter with your opponents, or if you’re particularly good, you can make a career out of playing competitively.
eSports is the serious side of gaming, where people compete at local, national and international levels for huge prize pools. In 2017 the International University Sports Federation (FISU) signed an agreement with the International eSports Federation to support eSports players in accessing higher education.
The first tertiary educator to provide an eSports scholarship was Robert Morris University in 2014, for a sponsored League of Legends team. Since then, over 50 American colleges have started fielding varsity eSports teams and scholarships for eSports athletes. It’s unsurprising when you consider the largest prize pool yet was the International 2017 Dota 2 tournament, which had a pool of over $24 million.
There is evidence to support that good video games encourage good learning principles, and more and more educators are beginning to use video games as a means of connecting with kids that don’t respond to traditional means of learning (remember Cool Maths Games?)
At UON, we have the Graduate Gamers club, and last year we also had a League of Legends team courtesy of the Anime club, but would the university support a permanent team? To find out where eSports sits among the more traditional sports, I spoke with NUSport’s Campus Programs Manager, Andrew Yapp.
Andrew explained that a team would be possible if there was enough student interest. Beyond interested students, for an eSports team to happen then there would have to be funding. This could be from an external sponsor or, if there is enough interest, from the uni itself. They would also likely need a dedicated computer lab. Skilled players would also help, of course. Andrew says NUSport is in favour of an eSports team, as the friendships and communities that come from gaming are not unlike those of traditional sports.
Video gaming and eSports aren’t niche fields either with the worldwide love of video games continually growing. In 2017, the eSports industry generated $696 million in revenue, and it’s projected to exceed $1.5b million in the year 2020. The Australian gaming industry is similarly huge and was worth around $2.96 billion in 2016. To put that in perspective, the Australian screen industry was worth approximately $3 billion in 2016.
With constant game technology developments, like those showcased at this years Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June, it is clear that platforms are continuing to grow which gives gamers more opportunities to master their art on a variety of high-level gaming developments. Fortunately, the traditional sports sphere is slowly beginning to recognise eSports as valid, yet the Australian eSports Association hasn’t been accepted by the Australian Sports Commission.
Gaming is too large not to be considered a valid and worthwhile sport, and supporting dedicated students to start representing their university by playing the games they love would help create a more whole community. Supporting students through eSports scholarship would be even more impactful. No universities in Australia have a scholarship for skilled gamers, could UON be the first?