Over the weekend, the University of Cincinnati hosted a two-day gamer tournament which ended up being one of the largest collegiate e-sports events ever. College teams from around the country gathered in UC’s basketball arena to compete. It was watched by about 14,000 people online. And, while the tournament cost under $30,000 to set up, it was funded mostly by entry fees and sponsors - as well as UC itself.
The fact that UC supported the competition signals a shift in the administration’s thinking about video gaming. Tony Quallen, a campus IT manager and faculty adviser of the League of Legends Club pointed out that, “At first the administration was kind of skeptical. But as opposed to fighting it and trying to keep it off campus, they’re actually starting to see the benefits.”
T.L. Taylor, a professor of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology echoes these sentiments. “What’s happening with college e-sports right now is that we’re seeing a formalization and institutionalization of what’s always been present.” Essentially, playing videogames has been part of the college campus culture for decades, and now administrations are allowing the student-run organizations to become official club sports - just like rugby and sailing.
The founder of UC’s League of Legends club, Chris Postell, used to play video games on campus in the usual way - with a small group of friends in the cafeteria. He then saw that the gaming community was exponentially growing on campus. He went to the university and requested that it become a club sport. He said that, “It just makes sense for the university to support gaming. We just had to convince them.”
As part of their presentation, Postell and his friends pointed out that the United States government grants “athlete visas” to professional video gamers who travel internationally. They also described how professional video game tournaments around the country are drawing major audiences. At the League of Legends World finals held in 2013 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the arena was sold out.
Postell convinced the administration. “We wanted to establish legitimacy,” and that the campus events “are actual competitions. These competitions have rules, they have regulations, there’s prizing - just like any athletics division or any athletics conference.”
As of this fall, the group has over 650 active members. It is also among the first gaming organizations in the country to be recognized as a club sport by a university.
Might we see the possibility of gamer scholarships in the future? Who knows?