By Michael Palacios
Traditional sports have been a staple in entertainment media for decades, but the recent rise of esports is unmistakable.
For many young kids growing up, they dreamt about playing video games for a living. Now with the popularization of competitive gaming known as “esports,” the dream has become a realistic possibility with players around the world fighting for a chance to play on stage.
Since the early 2000s, esports has gained momentum because of the small gaming communities passionately supporting their favorite game.
Esports is a relatively new term referring to the competitive video game setting in which players compete.
The industry has grown exponentially since the early 21st century. Various video games have harbored niche competitive gaming scenes that held consistent player and viewer engagement.
Robert Morris University in Illinois was the first university to recognize esports as an academic degree. The program launched in 2014 and offered scholarships to students that competed at a professional level.
After noticeable success in the student retention rate in the esports program and increased enrollment rate, more colleges around the country began developing programs of their own.
By 2020, there were more than 125 varsity programs accredited by ESPN.
The National Association of Collegiate Esports is the main home for these programs to collaborate with their players and teams for competition and ranking. NACE offers scholarships yearly for students accepted into the program.
Growth continued into the latter half of 2010, and two of the biggest governing entities in college athletics decided to create esport associations to help nurture the esports collegiate scene. The Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference and the National Junior College Athletic Association have invested into the esports associations. With full support aiding in player programs allowing for talent to develop, students have begun to compete at an elite level.
The final piece for esports development at the collegiate level was the creation of the Collegiate Esports National Championship, which hosts yearly championships for all esport programs. With these associations backing the programs, students have the ability to play in an organized regular season, followed by a conference and a national championship.
Given this structure for esports, programs around the country have exploded with student interest. The talent pool has significantly increased due to college programs allowing students to prosper, creating fiercer competition.
Many Oklahoma universities have built centers just for their esport players, such as the Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma and the CO-OP Esports and Gaming Arena at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Smaller colleges also offer gaming and pop culture clubs giving students an opportunity to connect with one another. The realm of esports is constantly expanding, and careers propelled by these programs are being recognized and respected as time goes on.