Dec 16 2021

3 Successful Esports Recruitment Strategies, and Why They Worked for These Colleges

A robust esports program can become an effective marketing tool for colleges and universities, but only with thoughtful planning.

Aquinas College, a small institution in Michigan, enrolled 27 new students within the first two years of its esports program. Under the leadership of its former esports director, Adam Antor, the college attracted students who most likely would not have enrolled at Aquinas if there hadn’t been an esports program. When executed correctly, an esports program can generate a significant amount of tuition revenue.

But marketing an esports program is no easy task. It’s important to know what students are looking for, why they might choose one school over another, and how IT professionals can work with internal stakeholders to invest in programs that support recruitment. Here’s a look at some common mistakes that higher education institutions make in esports programs, and how some schools avoided these pitfalls.

Click below to learn how Ottawa University built a state-of-the-art esports arena.

1. Boost Recruitment with Savvy Esports Marketing

As IT professionals, we want to talk about the tech. Networking capabilitiesfast processors and high-quality graphics cards are all huge selling points for any esports program. We understand that what is most exciting about esports programs are things you can’t necessarily see.

But when it comes to recruitment, it’s all in the optics. Prospective students want to see esports arenas that are decked out with flashy LED lights, branding and school colors. A generic, repurposed computer lab under fluorescent lights isn’t going to cut it, even if all the tech is there. First impressions are everything, and students need a visual indicator that the university they’re considering is investing in their esports program’s overall look and feel, in addition to the technology.

That’s how Wichita State’s assistant esports director, Joe Mazzara, made sure his university could compete with industry stalwarts like Boise State and University of California, Irvine. Wichita had tuition incentives and a strong tech infrastructure that bolstered its recruiting efforts. With a “PC bang” gaming center available for the general student body and a private lab solely for varsity activities, esports has become an integral part of the university’s ecosystem. The program has even helped Wichita State — traditionally known as a commuter school — attract students to live on campus.

MORE ON EDTECH: A new look for esports competition spaces. 

2. Integrate Esports into the University Community

An esports program that’s integrated with the larger school community — whether academically or as a student organization — is another selling point for prospective students.

A robust esports program can be a gateway to myriad technology and creative careers. That’s why Sari Kitelyn, the director of esports and project development at Florida’s Full Sail University, has closely linked esports with academic programs. In addition to the university’s degree programs in game design, other fields of study, like animation, make use of the esports program’s gaming systems for the best possible learning experience.

A growing number of higher education institutions are incorporating esports directly into the curriculum by offering majors, minors, concentrations and certificates. For example, Florida Southern College’s business administration department has added a minor in esports management, as well as an esports management concentration in its MBA program.

A strong esports student organization can also provide professional development opportunities and foster a sense of connection to the larger campus community. At the University of Oklahoma, the esports program is designed to simulate a professional esports organization, giving students marketable skills beyond the arena.

Publicizing these added benefits will demonstrate the value of esports as both a viable field of study and a professionally enriching extracurricular activity.

EXPLORE: How Southern University's head coach convinced leadership to see the value of esports.

3. Ensure an Authentic Experience for Gamers on Campus

Understanding the culture of the institution and the goals surrounding the esports program can help shape the result. Authenticity is everything to a well-rounded program, says Karen Ruggles, associate professor of computer science and esports program director at DeSales University. In addition to a dedicated gaming arena with GPUs and gaming peripherals, students must also feel the institution’s genuine interest and passion for gaming. If a university offers esports only to increase enrollment — and because everyone is doing it — then prospective students will catch on.

At the end of the day, every student is hungry for community, value for their tuition dollars and a transformative undergraduate experience. Ensuring authenticity and a well-rounded program requires cross-departmental collaboration, which might mean building relationships with new stakeholders.

Whether the goal is to find academic opportunities or to integrate a program into the overall university community, a partner like CDW•G can help university stakeholders understand and shape their objectives for an esports program, and select technologies to best meet these goals — ultimately positioning esports as a valuable recruitment tool for colleges and universities that are willing to invest.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

dima_sidelnikov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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