Eastern University is set to introduce esports, or electronic sports, to the athletics department according to the goeasterneagles website. Eric McNelley, Director of Athletics, announced the upcoming change on Oct. 9.
Esports is comprised of competitive, multi-player computer games that require strategy and skill to master. Games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League are particularly popular at the collegiate level and are commonly played among esports competitions.
Eastern will be playing on a national schedule, as well as other universities in the area. The new team is slated to be coed and will be Eastern’s twenty-second athletic sport.
“We see esports as a great platform for growth in our University and Department,” McNelley told Eastern Eagles. “I look forward to seeing us build a winning program in this exciting and popular competition. I believe that our current students will get behind the program very quickly.”
However, the incoming program has some students wondering about the execution of this new sport. Will there be a facility dedicated to esports? How will players train, and who will coach them? What are esporting events even like? A spokesperson from the athletic department did not respond when asked for a comment, so many of these questions linger, as esports are still relatively new to college athletics, both nationally and at Eastern.
Despite their air of mystery, esports have been gaining notoriety quickly. According to InsideHigherEd.com, 15 states already recognize them as varsity-level sports in high school. This shift has influenced colleges across the nation, and according to NBC, around 200 colleges offered $16 billion in scholarships in the 2018 – 19 school year alone.
Because of this massive rise of interest in an activity only recently recognized as a sport, many professionals do not know how to categorize esports. Some universities have chosen to group esports with their intramural athletics, but others say this diminishes the value of the game. Others have chosen to place esports among their more traditional teams, but this decision can quickly become legally and divisionally dicey. The nature of esports can raise questions about Title IX issues, from an overrepresentation of white men on teams to concern about misogynistic content within the games themselves.
Regulation of esports can also be confusing territory, and not even the National Collegiate Athletic Association knows how to handle the issue. InsideHigherEd.com reports that at the NCAA’s annual convention, President Mark Emmert himself posed the question – “should the NCAA should control collegiate esports?”
Though it may appear to be the sensible thing to do, folding esports in with NCAA regulations could be difficult. The NCAA enforces strict rules prohibiting athletes from being compensated, though many esports players are accustomed to winning large sums of prize money at competitions. Furthermore, the video games esports use are all created and owned by game developers, which would lead to some complicated negotiations between them and the NCAA.
Though there is much national and campus-wide uncertainty about the implementation of such a program, there is one constant and attractive motivator for universities to adopt esports into their programs: an increase in admission numbers.
This is not the first time Eastern has discussed adding a new sport in pursuit of higher enrollment numbers. Rumors of an incoming football team have circulated Eastern’s campus for years now, and it is possible that esports could be a simpler addition to implement. Though there has been no public discussion either way, it is worth considering that esports may be an alternative to football. Football would likely cost the school significantly more than esports in equipment and facilities alone, making esports a compelling substitute.
Whatever the reason for the implementation of the incoming program may be, esports arrival on Eastern’s campus is sure to be a compelling addition to the community.
Sources: GoEasternEagles, NBC News, Inside Higher Ed