As esports matures, colleges are discovering that this popular activity isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Institutions have plenty of room to customize a program and the accompanying investment. While some colleges are betting big on esports — Full Sail University opened its $6 million arena in May — it’s entirely possible to build a thriving program for far less.
The biggest factor in determining the scope of a program is identifying your primary goal. That typically falls into one of three buckets: recruitment, retention or curriculum. Most esports programs will touch each of these to some degree, but generally speaking, one goal will drive the program more than others.
Recruitment, Retention and Curriculum Are Top College Esports Drivers
When recruitment is the aim, a college is looking to build one of the best teams in the country and, to do so, attract strong players. Most colleges going this route will dedicate a space exclusively to the team and invest in equipment of a caliber that allows players to be truly competitive.
Increasingly, esports teams can provide the same recruiting boost that traditional sports do, drawing players who may choose a college primarily on the basis of its competitive standing in their chosen sport. In fact, high-performing esports teams are starting to drive the same uptick in enrollment that historically has followed national athletics championships.
If the focus is on retention, the classroom or facility space is more likely to be open to students who aren’t on the esports team. For example, a college might host campuswide tournaments that emphasize social engagement rather than intercollegiate competition. Retention-oriented programs often exist alongside academic programs, such as major or minor degrees in game design or esports management.
Programs with a curricular emphasis may be embedded within an academic department. The esports space is likely open to all students and, in some cases, may include broadcasting equipment for students learning how to film and produce events. Because streaming is such a huge part of esports, broadcasting students may hold internships that give them experience on camera or behind the camera while players are competing.
Curriculum-oriented programs may also have roles for students studying marketing, event planning or esports management. Shenandoah University’s esports program, for example, offers majors, minors and certificates in a variety of academic specialties. Business schools are also getting in on the act. With the global esports industry projected to pass the $1 billion mark this year, it’s something that business majors should have on their radar. After all, corporations do: State Farm and Mastercard, among others, have entered into multiyear esports sponsorships.
Take Advantage of Esports’ Flexibility to Customize Your Program
Another distinction is whether a program is varsity or nonvarsity. The National Association of Collegiate eSports defines a varsity team as one that has a full-time employee who runs the program, whether that’s a coach or director. Ottawa University fast-tracked a program by hiring its first coach less than a year after the chancellor expressed interest in the endeavor.
It’s important to note that all of these aspects of esports programs are valuable in their own right. Having a competitive team is great, but just as many institutions want to develop an esports program that serves the entire campus and gives students diverse opportunities to participate. As the field continues to mature and grow, we’ll see colleges dream up new ways to support team activity and deliver relevant academic programs.
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.