Seldom does a week go by without a new development in the world of collegiate esports. Most of these reports focus on the surge in popularity of this pastime on college campuses across the country. But as collegiate esports matures and novelty fades, those institutions that weren’t early to the party will face an important decision: To what extent should they invest in esports on campus?
While the enthusiasm around esports is undeniably enticing, it’s important to look beyond the hype to address three less-discussed factors that institutions should consider when developing or growing esports programs.
New Esports Programs Must Account for Recurring Costs
Whether it’s a couple of computers or a fully equipped arena, any equipment used for esports will require regular upgrades and maintenance. The aging technology that is common on many campuses, whether legacy student information systems or dust-collecting projectors from the early 2000s, won’t suffice. The range of what an institution may need to spend on computers for esports program can be significant, ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These computers will need to be updated or repaired on a two- to three-year cycle.
While institutions have a variety of options when it comes to financing the acquisition of gaming hardware, the development of esports programs should come with an understanding of long-term financial commitment. These are not outdoor courts that can go unsurfaced for years and still meet the needs of intramural sports; these are high-tech machines that see significant wear and tear. They will break and they will require updates.
Esports Career Pathways Are Still Uncertain
Despite the reported surge in esports’ popularity, there do not yet seem to be any outsized gains in the number of jobs in the field. Data provided by Emsi/ Economicmodeling.com indicates that job postings citing “esports” increased nearly sixfold over the past three years; however, the number of jobs remains small, reaching a peak of slightly more than 2,000 openings in July of this year. Mirroring a national trend of declining job postings, esports job postings declined in the last three months.
The jobs that are being posted tend to fall into two categories: technology careers at large gaming companies based in Los Angeles or New York, or school administrator jobs that include working on esports programs (a category far less common but growing). While esports is undeniably expanding, caution should be exercised around messaging its explosive growth in terms of opportunities for students to land jobs in the industry. While that may turn out to be the case, it’s too soon to gauge what these career paths may look like or how extensive they’ll be.
The Potential Benefits of Esports Go Beyond Gamers
Even given the above cautionary notes, esports can be an opportunity to engage students who are not necessarily gamers. Similar to your typical campus basketball or tennis court, the necessary building blocks required for an esports program may provide opportunities for other activities and learning experiences.
For example, high-performance computers have uses in running power-hungry technical software used in academics, such as computer-aided design. Perhaps even more applicable, esports programs provide opportunities not only for gamers but also for students looking to develop cocurricular skills in data analytics and broadcasting and seeking familiarity with specific technologies such as Twitch, a widely used video streaming platform.
The communication and teamwork required in esports programs may also contribute to the soft skills that many employers say today’s graduates too often lack. Creating a community around esports takes a village, but those who successfully establish a healthy culture around esports programs may impact numerous students, gamers or not.
The Right Planning Makes Esports Sustainable for Higher Education
Making an investment in a sustainable esports program should be viewed as a long-term, continuous endeavor in an evolving field rather than a one-and-done addition to the list of cocurricular activities offered on campus. The promise of esports programs is massive, and some institutions will undoubtedly realize positive outcomes in numerous forms. But this will not be everyone’s experience.
The first-to-market esports programs have particularly benefited in attracting students, but as more institutions enter the fray — especially those with major brands and athletic programs — smaller institutions may have to pour more resources into esports to remain competitive. Keep in mind that the empty classroom or dorm has long been the stadium of choice for baccalaureate gamers and would continue to be so if an institution were to take a more passive approach to esports.