ATHENS, Ohio (WCMH)–A new esports arena is nearly complete, adding Ohio University to a growing list of esports programs across the country.
Since the first program started in 2014, there are now more than 350 esports clubs and/or programs at universities across the country.
“Esports is basically video gaming for competition purposes,” said Dr. Jeff Kuhn, director of Ohio University’s esports program. “If you think about it, basketball is a game. But it got organized into your team vs. my team and the winner becomes the champion. We’re doing the same now with video games.
While not officially sanctioned by the NCAA, colleges have already established competitions and tournaments with each other.
Kuhn believes it’s only a matter of time before these programs are compared similarly to other NCAA sports.
“So we can play against other schools in the Mid-American Conference. We have the esports collegiate. So we play against 13 other schools and Akron can be at home and we play them or Miami can be at home and we play against them.”
Video gaming is expected to become a $200 billion dollar industry this year, with esports and competitive gaming bringing in $2 billion of that.
Some competitive gamers go pro, gaining sponsorships and endorsements before they even graduate high school.
“We see people winning Fortnite® championships and winning millions and millions of dollars at 15 or 16 years old just because they brought the talent to the table, they brought the personality to the table,” said Pat Daley, President of Bobcat esports.
At Ohio University, eSports are about more than trying to go pro and potentially make that type of money. Daley said it can be a mental and physical exercise.
“It’s not the process of sitting in a dimly lit basement with an energy drink and a bag of chips and being super unhealthy. Here we’ve really tried to break that stigma and show that these are athletes, these are people that are putting in the time and mental energy – it’s a serious program,” he said.
Students learn career and life skills in the virtual world that will serve them in the real world.
“It’s not just being good at the game, although that’s a critical part of it. It’s how well can you communicate with others. How well can you be part of a team and how well can you manage your own performance in a high-stress environment,” Kuhn said. “Students interested in broadcasting, network infrastructure, game development can come here and study esports and larger video game technologies. The ability to work under stress. I liken it to race car driving where you’re sitting with sustained focus for a long period of time. But really, more importantly, the ability to be a good teammate, to listen to your team members, to react to what they need you to react to, and cooperate with a team is far more important than how quick you are with a mouse and a keyboard.”
“I can take things I learn playing in this super intense, high-stress environment and apply that to my social life or my professional life and say ‘Oh, I’ve had to deal with someone who’s really is high anxiety or I’ve had to deal with somebody who is this kind of personality type…and I’ve kind of familiarized myself, all within the confines of a screen, playing a game,” Daley said.
The benefits of esports can also be as simple as the community it creates.
“To be able to come into a program like this and put a jersey on, and represent this school that’s given so much to me…it’s incredible,” Daley said. “When you wear jerseys, there’s almost like a pride to it. There’s this feeling of accomplishment and I feel that whether I’m a player or an administrator…just putting on the esports jersey and being part of the program, it’s just wonderful.”
“If you love movies, there’s a space you can go on campus. There’s a movie theater. If you love books, you can go to the library. But for people who love video games, there was no kind of community space,” Kuhn said. “So part of this is creating that classroom space that’s dedicated to video games but then also providing that space where students can practice and be part of that community.”
The original goal was to have the Ohio University esports arena open to the public at the end of October. However, despite being a virtual competition, the pandemic managed to find a way to disrupt that plan as well. The manufacturer who makes the Bobcats’ computers for gaming has been impacted by the global computer chip shortage. The new goal is to have the esports arena open in January at the beginning of the spring semester.