By: Kevin Ye Su
The recent explosive growth of the eSports industry has taken the world by storm, and the addition of a varsity eSports program at the University of Windsor could be on the horizon.
Globally, eSports has experienced growth in areas like viewership, awareness, and revenue. According to statistics presented by Influencer MarketingHub, in 2018 there was a total audience size of 380 million people (includes occasional viewers and enthusiasts). Newzoo (eSports analytics and market research company) predicts this will grow to around 557 million by 2021, making the Super Bowl audience seem insignificant (according to Nielsen, the last Super Bowl had a combined viewership of 100.7 million).
Brands are also contributing to this growth by investing in the industry to capture the attention of viewers and increase sales. According to Influencer MarketingHub, the eSports industry made $906 million in revenue in 2018, and over 75% ($694 million) came from brand investments (e.g., sponsorships, advertising).
Professional eSport teams and players compete in eSport tournaments with large pool prizes. Although at their infancy stage, many colleges and universities have started embracing eSports by creating varsity programs, including Miami University (of Ohio), Boise State University, and Ryerson University.
“Ryerson eSports is considered a competitive athletics club and officially under the jurisdiction of Ryerson Athletics,” said Siobhan Liu, a graduate student at Ryerson University and president of Ryerson eSports. “We get support from the university and the athletics department, but are more of a self-sustained club that operates independently.”
According to Liu, Ryerson eSport teams compete in specific collegiate esports leagues (e.g., Collegiate Starleague, Tespa University, College Apex Legends). It’s mostly against other universities in North America (both Canada and the U.S.).
The success of eSports has caught the eye of Mike Havey, director of athletics at the University of Windsor.
“I recognize the phenomenon, and have seen the growth of interest in eSports,” Havey said. “Some Canadian and U.S. universities have eSports teams, but they do not operate within the U Sports or NCAA space officially.”
Havey noted that although there is growth, eSports is still in the early days. In fact, the NCAA recently voted to not govern collegiate eSports.
Things are not going in a much different direction in Canada.
“Though there have been discussions regarding eSports at both OUA and U Sports meetings, to date, the interest in adding this activity has had very limited traction,” Havey said.
Nevertheless, University of Windsor alumni Sten Dragoti founded a company called eSports Gaming Events. He eventually sold his company to St. Clair College, which started what is now called Saints Gaming (St. Clair’s eSports program). This program is funded by St. Clair College, specifically the Student Representative Council.
Sten Dragoti. Picture provided by Sten Dragoti.
After growing the program from a varsity athletic program that offers scholarships to incorporate an entire educational curriculum, Dragoti has decided to leave St. Clair to help start an even better program at the University of Windsor.
But, growing eSports varsity programs has its challenges.
“Growing eSports as an official varsity structure within existing traditional post-secondary sport structures and organizations is a challenge,” Havey said. “These structures are traditionally and primarily funded through student fees. It is difficult to imagine support for the creation of additional or new fees to support esports growth. It seems to me that the funds to create an infrastructure for eSports as a varsity program in the Canadian collegiate/university space will likely have to come from the participants or other interested third parties.”
Liu noted some obstacles as well.
“I think the industry will remain at an impasse until the major collegiate leagues stop competing against each other,” Liu said. “It’s infuriating as someone who runs a club to have to deal with 10+ different league administrators.”
Dragoti acknowledges that growing university and collegiate eSports will be a long process, but continues to have an optimistic outlook.
“The viewership numbers in the professional scene are already there, collegiate is going to eventually catch up,” Dragoti said. “You either have to adapt now or be left behind.”
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