In February, Stevenson opened its new student activities space on the Owings Mills campus, the Garrison Hall Student Commons. Among the features of this modern, student-friendly area is a state-of-the-art esports suite, home to Stevenson’s esports club.
Esports is a new venture for the university—but it’s a popular one. In esports, short for “electronic sports,” individuals and teams play a schedule of video game matches and competitions. Although the global presence of professional esports really only began to surge in the 2010s, today it has millions of followers watching the games on a live streaming video platform.
The events are held in arenas around the world, oftentimes drawing more viewers than the NBA, NHL, and MLB championship games. Top professional players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in endorsements and prize earnings.
On the collegiate level, growth has been remarkably swift. In 2014, Robert Morris University announced its scholarship-sponsored League of Legends team. Now, there are more than 60 programs at U.S. universities and its momentum isn’t slowing. For example, 22 percent of all millennial-aged men watch esports, a number nearly equal to those in that demographic watching baseball or hockey. Additionally, Newzoo—a leading provider of market information about global games and esports—projects that college esports will be a $1.5 billion industry by the year 2020.
“There is a clear desire for collegiate level esports, and it only seems to be growing,” says Vice President of Enrollment Management Mark Hergan. “We are proud to offer esports as a modern, community-building experience for both our current and incoming students.”
BRINGING ESPORTS TO CAMPUS
“When we were approached about adding a serious esports arena, we felt that it was another extension of appealing to more students, especially in this area where esports offerings are harder to come by than, say, the West Coast,” Hergan notes. “We thought, ‘How could we use the existing space we had on the Owings Mills campus as a tool for those interested in this emerging and evolving sport?’”
Hergan was approached by Tyler Price (computer information systems ’17), a graduate student in the university’s Business and Technology Management program, who saw a need for esports during his undergraduate years. He served as the catalyst for making esports a serious group on campus because while the video games club was popular it didn’t meet the needs of players who wanted to play more competitively, he says.
“Having esports and the esports arena here can reach students that Stevenson may not have been reaching otherwise,” Price explains. “I wanted to break the mold of students not leaving their room to play video games to making a community centered on video games where people actually come together.”
The new Esports Suite is impressive, containing 25 custom gaming PCs with 144hz monitors, special gaming chairs, a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and a projector. The players can use the room to practice individually or within teams, or to host gaming-related events such as viewing parties, inhouse tournaments, and more.
“When I started here a year ago, we only had a classroom of computers to practice with,” says League of Legends Coach and Esports Advisor Jonathon Neely. “Then we made the move to the esports arena and it was so exciting to watch. Out of other participating colleges on the East Coast, we are absolutely ahead in terms of facilities—we have one of the best esports rooms around.”
Because the sport is so new, each college manages its program in differing ways. They can fall under the auspices of athletic departments, student affairs, and even academic departments; Stevenson’s esports program currently falls under Club Sports.
As with other sports programs, recruiting the right players is crucial. Currently, much of recruitment is by word of mouth, but esports programs can follow a player’s rank by watching their game stats. Beyond identifying players who excel, the recruiting process is similar to that of traditional college sports in establishing a coach-player relationship.
MORE THAN JUST A GAME
Mouse clicks, keyboard taps, and the occasional words of frustration fill the room three days a week for practices, with official scrimmages falling on Wednesday evenings. The noise levels increase as the games progress. Conversation becomes louder. Clicks and taps become more energetic, and people gather to watch the main competitor’s screen. This is all part of what makes esports a team event—the energy is dynamic.
Price, who was a co-founder of the original Stevenson League of Legends (a multi-player game) team, sought to build the program up by building it around that team and then branching into other games such as Overwatch (a firstperson game). These are two of the most popular games in esports competition and attract a diverse range of players.
“This is a community of players for people who are striving to improve,” says Luke Zarcone, freshman psychology major and esports player. “When I saw the esports suite on my campus tour, I saw an environment I had never experienced. When I entered the room I just knew Stevenson was for me. I didn’t see this anywhere else.”
Sarah Kruse, a junior biochemistry major and esports team player, says that being part of the program has benefited her commuter student experience. “I’ve made friends here that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’ve felt nothing but support in the gaming community on campus.”
In addition, as with other student athletics and club activities, the program gives students a well-rounded college education. “Esports helps you apply the skills you are learning in the classroom, whether it’s teamwork, computer building, marketing, social media, and more,” Price notes.
And even if you don’t play, you’re always welcome to watch.
Interested in learning more about the Esports program at SU? Know someone who may want to join? Click the link below for information!