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The Latest Generation

eSports is becoming the next “traditional” sport of this generation.

Recently, Colorado College created a lab space for its rapidly growing eSports club team. The program figures it’s just a matter of time before eSports gains varsity status and offers scholarship money. By the end of 2018, more than 50 colleges and universities around the country had varsity eSports programs.

Recently, Colorado College created a lab space for its rapidly growing eSports club team. The program figures it’s just a matter of time before eSports gains varsity status and offers scholarship money. By the end of 2018, more than 50 colleges and universities around the country had varsity eSports programs.

In a different generation, young boys and girls would daydream in backyards, playgrounds, and fields, picturing themselves in a last-second scenario and delivering in the clutch, certainly getting carried off in celebratory glory. And sure, even today, those athletic dreams still take place and will forever inspire others. 

But now, in addition, many other boys and girls harbor quite different dreams, and they’re not emanating from what you’d consider a traditional setting. Instead, sitting in a chair with eyes transfixed on a computer monitor, they practice with deft fingers, quicker reflexes, and rapid decision making with thoughts of becoming a champion at Overwatch, League of Legends, or Dota 2, just to name a few.

These kids are looking for video game glory.

Laugh if you want, especially if you are not a millennial. But welcome to the age of electronic, or eSports, video game competitions between individuals or teams that are streamed to the world through the popular online service Twitch and, in some cases, are watched by millions from jam-packed stadiums or online.

“This is not a passing phase,” says Chad Schonewill, the solutions center team lead at Colorado College who supervises the eSports club team there. “It’s been a really interesting ride and meteoric rise, just in the last four years or so. That rise has been nothing short of stunning, and that growth is only going to get stronger and stronger.” Schonewill shared a few telling stats that illustrated the worldwide appeal of eSports. “In 2017, viewership of Twitch, where everyone watches eSports online, had more viewers than ESPN,” he says. “Another one that caught me is that, at last year’s League of Legends world championships, there were more people in attendance and watching online than the Super Bowl.”

And the craze has caught on big time in Colorado. In addition to Schonewill’s team, similar club college eSports teams—complete with official uniforms—have been formed at UCCS, Air Force, CSU-Pueblo, Colorado State, and Northern Colorado among others. UCCS recently hosted an eSports tournament and summit that featured tournament play and keynote speakers covering a variety of topics.

“It’s the first time we’ve hosted that kind of large-scale event, and it played out pretty well,” says Brandon Moore, the student president of the eSports club team at UCCS. “Next year’s plan, when I’m graduated, is to shoot for multiple days. I hope the next president builds off it. This has been an uphill battle, and it’s taken time getting schools to show interest and people to take us seriously. That’ll take time.”

Someday, perhaps not far from now, those Colorado programs will join the approximately 50 college programs around the country to offer scholarships in eSports and include it as an official varsity sport. And earlier this year, the momentum trickled down to the aspiring younger players when the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the NFHS Network entered into a partnership with PlayVS to begin a rollout of eSports competition in high schools throughout the nation.

Still many people are not sold on the appeal of eSports. One thing in its favor is that there’s a social component not found in traditional sports. During gameplay, players, through the Twitch stream, can engage with viewers and chat about that latest move or pretty much anything on their minds. You can’t do that with Von Miller or Nolan Arenado.

Maybe most important, gamers say, is that eSports actually promotes community and playing in an open space where people gather together. In the past, those same players spent solidary time playing online where there was no personal interaction. CC, with the backing of the administration, constructed a specially designed lab space for the school’s eSports club teams.

In addition, eSports players have much less of a chance of suffering a concussion, torn ACL, or other season (or career) ending injury, and colleges don’t have to spend on travel. 

However, it’s not all fun and games, either. At the highest levels, pro eSports teams possess all the amenities of their traditional contemporaries with physical therapists, chefs, and mental coaches on hand to keep their athletes on top of their game. After all, some gamers are pulling in six-figure salaries, and that’s without additional revenue streams from online sources and sponsors. On top of that, the International Olympic Committee is mulling the addition of eSports to future Olympic Games.

Several eSports leagues have surfaced, luring investors—such as Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots—to go along with sponsors, such as Intel, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Comcast Xfinity. Business Insider estimated the current value of the eSports market to be in the neighborhood of $900 million. 

“I wish I could have been a part of that when I was younger,” says Cody Burket, general manager of the Esports Arena, a California-based company that recently opened a 17-computer gaming facility inside a northern Colorado Springs Walmart. “But it’s nice to help build those opportunities for the younger people. I never would have imagined those types of opportunities.”

Those who can’t make the professional ranks, take heart. There are plenty of other opportunities. Schonewill pays a coach to mentor his players, and parents are shelling out big bucks to hire personal tutors to help sons and daughters rise above the ranks the same way others turn to those who teach ACT and SAT prep courses.

Yes, a new generation is here.