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The Ohio Esports club discusses matters pertaining to the esports community at the Copeland Annex on February 25, 2019.

Esports on the rise as official university varsity sports

Not many people have the skills to play a video game for hours at a time, moving their fingers more than 500 times a minute and analyzing everything happening around them while working as an individual, yet also on a team. 

The people who have those skills don’t play traditional competitive sports; they play video games competitively. 

During the 2018 League of Legends World Championship, more than 200 million people tuned in to watch the competition, according to Esports Charts. That is nearly double the amount of people who watched Super Bowl LII in 2018, according to Nielsen. 

“A lot of times language issues and cultural issues break down because we both know the game,” Jeff Kuhn, who works in instructional innovation at Ohio University, said.

With that large growth in the popularity of esports, universities across the globe are starting to consider competitive video game playing a sport. There are more than 125 colleges in the U.S. that have varsity esports teams, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports. OU currently does not have a varsity esports team, but there are more than 200 members in the Bobcat Esports club. 

“(Bobcat Esports is) bringing all of these players across campus together to play games, and I think the more universities that get involved with esports, the more we can show that the more diverse the group, the more fun we have and the more skillsets we bring to the table,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn strongly believes esports should be the next sport colleges add as a varsity sport. 

“We keep in contact with alumni and donors through football,” Kuhn said. “What happens when these kids aren't interested in football anymore? What happens when those traditional mediums the university communicates to their students with is no longer what students care about?”

There needs to be more ways to communicate with students and alumni, Kuhn said. Adding esports as a varsity sport is a way to keep up with the changing times and keep up with what students want. 

“Kids who like sports get to perform for their university. They get to be a Bobcat, so to speak,” Kuhn said. “Esports are just a result of players wanting validation.”

Playing esports is athletic in its own right, Kristofer Meyeres, a junior studying finance, management information systems and business analytics, said. Meyeres is also the president of Bobcat Esports. 

“It’s actually really tiring to go on for hours and hours playing because there’s so much mental and somewhat physical (work) that goes into playing for that duration,” Meyeres said. 

Meyeres believes there are many opportunities for universities to bring in esports teams. There are a lot of students with gaming skills who don’t have the outlet to use them.

“I think it'll be really cool if leagues started forming in colleges because then you'll see the rivalries form,” Meyeres said. 

Kuhn agrees with Meyeres that universities can help improve the world of gaming for its students. 

“We have some difficulties, but as games become more socially acceptable, we are going to see a lot of that (toxicity) disappear in favor it being more open and diverse,” Kuhn said. “I really think universities can help propel that and model the behavior.”

Despite the growing popularity with video games and esports, there are some underlying downfalls. There are small groups that play and will badger female players, players of color and players of different sexual orientations, Kuhn said. 

Things can get heated while playing video games, like any other sport. 

“Sometimes these games are highly emotional, and you might yell something, but having the wherewithal to know that's not acceptable is part of that process,” Kuhn said. 

A way to fix that issue is by having the other players be more vocal about welcoming others and shutting down negative comments, Kuhn said. 

“I definitely think the overall community is a force for good, but the loudest, smallest group gets the most attention,” Kuhn said. 

There is also the issue of the stereotype surrounding people who play video games, which causes people to shy away from playing. Meyeres finds the stereotype that people who play video games don’t socialize with others annoying. 

“We have socialized. We have things we interact with. We live and breath as people, too,” Meyeres said. “We aren't some basement-dwelling weirdos that just plays games all day.”

Dana Kawar, the chief operating officer of professional esports organization FlipSid3 Tactics, is impressed with how Meyeres and OU are developing the esports organization.

“I actually am very excited about how OU is handling their sort of foray into esports,” Kawar said. 

Starting with students and growing out from there is similar to how video games were developed because the video gaming community is very grassroots-like, Kawar said. 

“I think how you guys are going about it with starting with your own students and starting with your own community and starting with your own space is exactly how gaming itself is,” Kawar said. 

With all of its growth, Bobcat Esports is not a varsity sport. Right now, it is a large group of people coming together to play their favorite games and compete against other teams. 

Even though esports is not a varsity sport at OU, it means a lot to the people who play. 

“People are beginning to look at video games, and they are starting to say ‘hey, I love this thing, and I want to do something with it’ so I think that's why games are growing,” Kuhn said. “In the past, people thought it’s a waste of time, but it’s not.”

Meyeres, who has been playing video games since he was a child, cherishes esports.

“Esports to me is a celebration of a player’s individual skill and a teams skill at the same time,” Meyeres said. 


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