eSports: The new path to an athletic scholarship

eSports: The new path to an athletic scholarship

NCSA Recruiting

eSports: The new path to an athletic scholarship

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

“Stop playing those video games—they’ll rot your brain!”

Most kids have heard this at some point in their life. Get some fresh air, or you’re going to ruin your eyesight! And the list of video game-induced maladies goes on and on. But what if I told you that video games can lead to college scholarships and even a future career?

eSports have been gaining popularity around the world for years, and now they’re breaking into college athletics. If you’re not familiar with the term eSports, it refers to multi-player video games played competitively, typically by professional gamers. There are fighting games, first-person shooters, real-time strategy or multiplayer online battle arena games.

Robert Morris University in Chicago was the first university to make eSports a varsity athletic program. They announced their competitive eSports program in 2014 and offered to cover up to 50% of tuition and 50% of room and board, which is about $19,000 per student. Now, 63 institutions have started varsity eSports programs under the governing body NACE (National Association of Collegiate eSports), which is run by the NAIA. In order for eSports programs to fall under the NACE umbrella, they need to be sanctioned by the president’s office of that school.

To learn more about eSports and its unique recruiting process, I talked to Alan Gadbois and Phil Wallace. Gadbois and Wallace are working on adding eSports to the online recruiting platform BeRecruited to help connect college coaches with eSports athletes. Gadbois’ history competing on eSports teams and now broadcasting games online has given him a passion for eSports and for helping athletes find their path to college through gaming.

What does a typical eSports team look like?

The team structure depends in part on the games that the program plays. Right now, there are about 7-8 different games being used for collegiate eSports. Some colleges will specialize in one game, while others might compete in two or three.

A typical team will have 4-7 athletes. Colleges with elite programs—like Robert Morris University—might have an A, B, and C team for a specific game. And, they will host that many teams for more than one game. Each team will usually have a shot call, or team captain, who’s responsible for delegating tasks out to everyone else on the team during the game.

Athletes usually specialize in only one game.

“Most of the time, an athlete will be specifically good in one game, because they have to put in so much time to be good at it,” explains Gadbois. “The skill ceiling is really high when you get to the upper echelon. There are occasionally times where people will be really good at two games, but it’s rare.”

Can gamers get athletic scholarships?

Gamers can qualify for athletic scholarships. Some schools have more eSports funding than others, but as eSports becomes more popular and mainstream, more scholarship dollars will become available for gamers. On top of athletic scholarships, gamers get to keep the money they win during tournaments, and this extra income can help foot the bill for college.

How do athletes get recruited to be on an eSports team?

It’s hard to pin down the eSports recruiting process, as there’s no one specific way that college eSports coaches find their athletes, Gadbois says. Some coaches will look to message boards or Facebook to scout out new talent. Others will post questionnaires on their website for interested gamers to complete. And others yet will post fliers and information on their college campus to see if any current students have an interest in eSports.

Gadbois points out that there are high school tournaments that college coaches may use to scout new talent, but again, it just depends on the coach and the program. If your athlete is interested in eSports, a video of them playing can be really helpful in getting them recruited by a collegiate program.

Online recruiting platform BeRecruited is helping streamline the eSports recruiting process, providing a way for coaches to discover talented gamers and give eSports athletes a means to promote their skills to interested coaches.

“BeRecruited is aiming to be the central hub where coaches can connect with student-athletes,” Gadbois says, “We want to take the guess work out of the recruiting process and help more eSports athletes compete at the collegiate level.”

What is a typical collegiate eSports schedule?

While eSports are played year-round, they do have different seasons, tournaments, qualifiers and a massive championship. Here’s what a year in the life of collegiate gamer looks like.

  • Spring: Teams spend a lot of time practicing and competing in tournaments. Some tournaments will be at other colleges or universities, and some will be open tournaments, where any gamer, collegiate or not, can compete. The huge, final championship is in late fall—around November—and teams need to compete in tournaments in the spring, summer and early fall to practice and qualify.
  • Summer: Athletes have to spend a lot of time practicing in the summer, and many teams will compete in open tournaments. Gadbois says that gamers can also compete in tournaments on their own, playing against professionals and even earning money for placing well.
  • Late summer/early fall: Gamers come back to school and ramp up their practice schedule. Gadbois explains that eSports teams will usually practice at night after classes and other activities. They might meet up in a computer lab, or all log in online from their own rooms and practice that way. Gadbois adds that gamers have to log long practices, as they can only complete one or two games in the span of a two- or three-hour practice session.
  • Late fall/winter: Teams are preparing for the final championship tournament for their game. These are typically huge events that attract thousands of viewers and sponsors.

Why are varsity eSports teams becoming so popular and how do they benefit their student-athletes?

“Video games have always been popular,” Wallace points out. “Millions of people have been playing video games for the past 30 years. What’s happened is the video game industry has figured out how to take something you do as an individual or with a couple of friends, and they have professionalized it and turned it more into a sports league.”

Wallace adds that, with the Internet and online gaming, eSports athletes can compete against people from all around the world, which has allowed for the proliferation of these games and given a global platform to the sport. In fact, more people tune in to watch the largest eSports tournaments than the Super Bowl!

As you let that fact sink in, consider how many more students have a path to college as eSports scholarships grow in popularity.

“For millennials, every kid is told video games rot your brain and you need to go outside. But now, they are actually a career path,” Gadbois says. “And for those kids who want to play video games, I want to help them get there.”

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eSports: The new path to an athletic scholarship
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