Video Game Varsity Athletes Need to Be More of A “Thing”

“I have practice” has a new meaning. All those hours spent after school (or after work) and on the weekends leveling up your character in World of Warcraft or creating an impenetrable defense in Starcraft could soon be more than a hobby for college students. There’s a new varsity sport at Robert Morris University in Chicago: Competitive gaming, the first in the country, offering video game scholarships worth up to $19,000. It was only a matter of time before one institution decided to create a formal competitive video game team and, depending on their success, other colleges and universities may follow suit. It’s a dream come true. Hats off to you RMU! You go RMU!

This historic moment for competitive gaming is just the latest achievement in the short history of eSports. The earliest known video game competition took place in1972 at Stanford University, where students competed for the top score in Spacewar to win a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. In 1980, Atari hosted the first sponsored large-scale video game competition. More than 10,000 people competed for the highest score in Space Invaders. There was a U.S. National Video Game Team at one point, too. The Internet and technological advances in computer graphics have created the eSports we know today, starting as mass national competitions in the 1990’s, then expanding globally by the 2000’s. The biggest step for mainstream recognition of eSports came in July of 2014, when ESPN broadcast The International 4, the world championship of Dota 2.

League of Legends World Championship, 2013.

It’s only a matter of time before more colleges start recognizing competitive video gaming as a legitimate sporting event. The more traction this idea gains, more scholarship opportunities will be available to students looking to pay their college tuition. I went to graduate school with a guy who paid 100% of his tuition with money he won from online poker tournaments. If poker is a serious sporting event, then online gaming should be considered one as well. Huge indoor arenas are filled for these massive international gaming events and televised. That screams serious, professional, and commercial. Professional video game player is a real title — a real title that wins real money.

Even though ESPN’s president considers eSports to be competitions, not sports, they have more similarities than differences. Football, basketball, and tennis are also competitions in which two people or a team competes for an award or prize. Both traditional sports and eSports improve your spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills. Even a study conducted by Queen Mary University of London and University College London saw that people who played Starcraft for 40 hours over a period of 6 to 8 weeks completed cognitive flexibility tasks with greater speed and accuracy. Aside from the difference in physical activity, both require players to be aware of their surroundings, to communicate effectively, and to grow in their individual abilities and as a team. I can remember the massive amount of coordination it would take me and my fellow gamers to complete a successful raid in Star Wars: Galaxies. (I am forever grateful for their help in achieving Padawan status.) There are also various roles a team needs to fill, similar to the crucial positions of quarterback or point guard: Tank, Healer, Damage Dealer, Buffing, Crowd Control, and Pulling — coordinated and lead by the Raid Leader — are all positions that need to be filled by the best possible players to efficiently and effectively complete a raid.

If more colleges and universities were to create their own video game varsity teams, would the professional teams backed by sponsors such as Coca Cola start recruiting as traditional sports have done for decades? I see that as a strong possibility. This paves the way for tier-ranked college teams and a chance for women to make a greater appearance in competitive video gaming. If handled correctly, the future of sporting events could change as we know it.

And that’s exciting.

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4 thoughts on “Video Game Varsity Athletes Need to Be More of A “Thing”

  1. Aye. A few months ago, the 2014 CoD: Ghosts international tournament was held somewhere on the West Coast.

    4 man teams, all sorts of crazy team names too.

    Only problem is that just as there is pressure on “real” athletes, there will be as equal pressure on VG athletes. One of the Tournament’s hotshots-had quite a reputation as a skilled player-ended up being eliminated rather quickly in the tournament and later announced, publically, he was either quitting or taking a break. Can’t remember which exactly, but the pressure to be the best is almost synonymous with the athletic world. And as someone who plays competitive multiplayer and has received his fare share of insults and annoyances, I can say that Pro-VG sports won’t be any less calm than the occasional fights between NBA players.

    At least with the way VGs are played today, you can get whooped in CoD, insult everyone but your opponent’s grandma, and never have to see their face. Imagine if suddenly you could get your hands on that gamer who whooped you?!

    P.S.: I’m UnifiedFieldTheory-remember I commented on one of your “Sarah” stories a long, long while ago, asking if you were going to ever post more of the tale?

  2. Hi Unified!

    Good to hear from you again, and thank you for you comments. I completely agree that there is/will be equal pressure on VG athletes as there are on traditional athletes. The greater the risk, the greater the pressure. And I don’t think there is something anyone can do about that, other than the individual themselves.

  3. From what I heard just a few weeks ago, ESPN supposedly aired some sort of VG tournament or something of that sort. The only problem was that long time commentator/ radio personality/ sports guru Collin Cowherd threw a fit when he heard that ESPN would even consider airing this new age “sports”.

    He even threatened that if ESPN continued with airing VG, he’d rather quit than suffer the indignity of commentating on a CoD match or something.

    Likewise, I do agree with you that poker and video gaming should share the same pedestal as a competition. That both require the same analytics and strategy (I myself play a popular online racing game and am constantly having to judge distances and velocities and trajectories so I don’t end up driving a McLaren F1 into a wall [heck, it’s practically vectors from physics!]), and most importantly: you can do both poker and VG sitting in a chair.

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