Quick mental exercise: how many people when clicking on this post’s headline, immediately thought “Hell no,” or “this topic is now invading my college blog?” My bet is at least a few, and so I’m going to direct you to this well done Daily Orange post explaining the Esports boom among colleges. The TL;DR... Syracuse is looking to add esports as a Club Sport (like how men’s hockey currently exists) and would join a growing trend of schools across the country doing this, including the entire Big Ten and the Pac-12.
There are two very distinct things at play here: the growing popularity of esports versus the NCAA’s very strict rulebook that goes directly against the current business model of esports. For those who aren’t 100-percent familiar with the industry (self-identified gamer here, but not to this level), there is a ton of money in the field. To date, over $100 million has been doled out in prize money alone, with the NBA and MLBAM among others investing on both the production and consumption of the sport. Players and teams are individually sponsored, with players
As we know very well, when there’s money involved, people tend to notice, including the NCAA. Utah was the first Power Five school to add esports as a D1 sport, joining a decent list of other schools in offering scholarships and financial backing to esports. So, whether you like it or not, this is a discussion athletic conferences and departments are going to start having (if they haven’t already,) meaning we’re going to talk about it too.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on board with the esports train, even if the money is cartoon eyeballs big.
Video games are available for all ages, meaning players can start their careers early. Professional players have an average age, depending on the game, from 21-25 years old, meaning they’ve started much younger and were sponsored then too. As we know all too well, the NCAA’s “amateurism” core prevents most instances of individuals making money off themselves before or during school. That’s a huge part of the esports model to-date.
And while very few become pro or even collegiately qualified in esports like all other sports, Twitch and YouTube gaming garner millions of viewers per year, with sponsored players of all ages driving content on the platforms.
So, while Bowlsby might not have had the most nuanced response, is having to fundamentally address the issues of the NCAA worth a few extra tens of thousands of dollars a year per school for one sport? We know the answer is yes just because the model needs changing. But for most of these athletic and NCAA directors, the answer is no. Even creating esports exemptions (like the NCAA does for Olympic athletes) would likely ignite a powder keg they’d like to wait to address — even before you consider what college basketball is dealing with right now.
So it seems pretty clear neither Syracuse Athletics nor the ACC seem to be all that pressured or interested to create D1 esports, but that doesn’t mean Syracuse University shouldn’t be. There’s a very clear opportunity right now to be one of the firsts in an international game. As a club sport, the team would not have the same backing as D1 sports, but we’ve seen club teams like the SU men’s hockey team create a solid amount of traction that builds a demand for promotion to the athletic department.
Another opportunity is for Syracuse to be part of forming an East Coast conference of esports. A #SlackChat we had when this post was pitched was the idea of who ‘Cuse would be competing with. There are tons of money tournaments up for grabs, but the potential and opening for Orange athletics is there to create a new “Big East” esports conference that could pool resources and create sanctioned collegiate tournaments or schedules of head-to-head.
Why is this important aside from getting to beat Georgetown more than we already do? (What that’s you say about recent years? No idea what you’re talking about...) Because a successful non-NCAA athletic conference of schools able to make money and effectively govern is a Big Deal (tm). Much like the original Big East, there is an opportunity to change the way a sport works and is viewed nationally, NCAA and establishment be damned.
If you’ve read this far, you’re either one of three things:
- A gamer wanting to know why I haven’t even mentioned recruitment, facilities, tech etc. If there’s enough of you out there, we’ve got enough esports fans here at TNIAAM we’d be happy to keep digging in.
- New to the esports discussion/genuinely curious about this and I hope this was somewhat informational.
- Clearly having a bad case of the Mondays, in which case I’m so very sorry.
Ultimately, this won’t be the last time we write about this topic here. So what do you think? We’ve covered so much without covering a ton, and I’d love to continue the conversation in the comment section.