The popularity of eSports internationally as well as on American college campuses has grown exponentially in recent years. eSports are competitions between players over a video game. Much like professional sports these athletes spend countless hours working on their craft, strategies and ways to better themselves to become the best at what they do. eSports cover a wide variety of games from traditional first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo, to sports games like NBA 2K and FIFA. As well as more strategic team-based games such as League of Legends and Overwatch. Because of the growth and popularity of eSports competition, prize pools and monetary winnings have continually increased over the years with more and more sponsors and companies becoming interested in the platform. As a result, some of these games have given birth to full blown leagues such as the NBA 2K League and the Overwatch League. These leagues are the pinnacle of eSports competition and consistently get millions of viewers tuned in to their competition. Recently, college campuses have also begun to promote eSports and have begun creating their own teams and even offering scholarships to these eSports athletes.
In 2011, eSports was finally given a platform to truly shine with the introduction of Twitch.tv, a live streaming platform where users can stream and watch gameplay of their favorite video games. By 2014 the site had grown to become the fourth largest source of peak internet traffic and had reached an astonishing 45 million viewers. As of February 2018, the site now has over 2 million users streaming monthly and 15 million daily consumers. Twitch.tv is home of the NBA 2K League, as well as the highly successful Overwatch League.
The NBA 2K league is in its inaugural season and was first announced in February 2017. All teams are backed by a professional NBA franchise and the league is a direct affiliate of the NBA. “From the NBA standpoint this is our fourth league,” said Adam Silver commissioner of the NBA in an interview with ESPN.
Currently there are 17 teams in the NBA 2K League with six players per roster, giving the league 102 players in total. Much like the NBA a draft was held in order to fill the rosters, after months of pool play determined the top players in the nation. Drafted players receive a salary of $32,000— with medical insurance and a retirement plan much like traditional NBA athletes. Each player controls a virtual version of themselves and each have different skill sets and abilities depending on position.
“If you’re into 2K, you want to watch,” said Mark Cuban owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Mavs Gaming. “There’s that same emotional connection from watching a 2K game that you can get from watching a Mavs game or an NBA game.”
Some people challenge the legitimacy of the league and its competition but that doesn’t bother the athletes who are living out their video game dreams. “People that say we just sit in front of a screen with a controller, they really don’t understand the amount of work we put in,” said Mootyy, the fourth overall pick of the 2k league and power forward for Sacramento Kings affiliate Kingsguard Gaming.
“Everyone can play it (2K), but not everyone can play at a high level. You can have real life basketball IQ and you can still not be good at the game,” said Worthingtoncolt, center for Kingsguard Gaming.
The NBA 2K league has seen success in its inaugural season and only looks to improve in the following seasons. Commissioner Silver said that he hopes the 13 other teams in NBA after seeing the success of the league will join in the next two years.
Similar to the 2K league the Overwatch League is also in its inaugural season. Overwatch is a 6 v. 6 first-person shooter created by Blizzard Entertainment and has been very popular since its release in May 2016. Although the game was not initially focused on the competitive scene, it has developed over recent months to become one of the most popular eSports leagues and is even covered on ESPN.
The Overwatch League consists of 12 teams with nine being in the U.S and the others being based out of South Korea, China, and the U.K. For the first season, a prize pool of $3.5 million is available for teams to compete. To have eSports go mainstream and be featured on ESPN is a large step for gamers. Because of the traction that eSports is gaining and how much publicity it is beginning to get it can be seen as a legitimate career for some.
For some gamers convincing others of the legitimacy of what they do can be a challenge, especially parents. Having something to point to and say “look, that can be me one day” gives motivation and reason to sit inside for hours on end doing what they love. The narrative that these athletes are lazy and that it doesn’t require much skill to perform at the highest level in these games is slowly beginning to fade and gamers are being respected as traditional athletes. The way we look at sports is changing with the introduction of eSports, people who don’t possess the body type, or skill set to compete in physical competition have the unique opportunity to make a name for themselves online.
Colleges across the nation are following suit and are beginning to create their own teams as well as provide scholarships for their players. Just recently in April the Big East Conference partnered with ESL to put together its first eSports invitational for League of Legends and Rocket League.
“Through this partnership with the Big East, we hope to build esports communities on university campuses in a responsible way and provide more opportunities for students to compete against rival schools in their conference,” said Craig Levine, Global Chief Strategy Officer for ESL in an article on Bigeast.com.
Seton Hall competed in both of these competitions and placed first in the Rocket League invitational. Starting in the Fall of 2018 Seton Hall will continue to move forward with eSports teams on campus and has the support of athletic director Pat Lyons.
The Big East along with many other conferences are making strides towards making eSports on college campuses as common as college football or basketball. Giving these students who truly have a passion for competition in gaming was inevitable with the rise in popularity of eSports. Universities are going to follow the money trail and if this is where it leads then they will take it in stride. eSports have been on the rise for years, but it is now that they are truly being pushed to the forefront. With popular free games such as Fortnite and League of Legends being so accessible any one can become a streamer or competitor if they put in the time and effort. So many streamers online build huge fan bases and followings that many want to replicate what they see online. As the growth of eSports continues and colleges across the nation continue to support these teams we may see a shift in dynamic on how we cover these eSport competitions and begin to recognize these players as athletes much like we do for football or baseball.