The scene at an eSports event in a large arena. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
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This fast-growing sport is not taking place on a field, court or arena. It’s happening online.
eSports, or competitive video gaming, is popularizing across college campuses in the United States. Though there is not an official eSports club at Butler, there are hundreds of teams springing up across the nation, including schools such as Indiana University and IUPUI.
Not only are these groups school-affiliated, some are actually backed by the athletic department. Beginning in 2013, Robert Morris University in Illinois included eSports as an athletic program, receiving athletic scholarships for students. Other colleges, such as University of California at Irvine, have followed suit.
Media networks are taking notice. ESPN, PAC-12 Networks and Turner Broadcasting have begun airing live college eSports tournaments since 2015. And the ratings are promising. According to research from “Newzoo,” there are as many male millennials that watch eSports than those that watch baseball or hockey.
The Butler Strategy Game Club has a Super Smash Bros. tournament once each semester. Marissa Fisher is a fourth-year pharmacy major and president of the club. She said this is usually their most popular event, with 150 people playing in the 2016 Spring tournament, and more than 60 in the 2016 Fall tournament.
“eSports has gained more popularity because more people have switched over to the digital age,” Fisher said. “We do more things with our computers than before.”
Fisher said eSports has the same allure as any physical sport.
“Have you ever met someone that doesn’t get football?” Fisher said. “It’s the same kind of thing with eSports. It’s a match. Until you get to know the nuance, it just looks like a bunch of flashing colors.”
Gavin Pehler, a senior at Butler, is an avid eSports fan. Pehler said there is not a huge difference between a casual gamer and a professional gamer.
“As with any other sport, you need a bunch of practice,” he said. “You need to analyze every aspect of the game to master it and be better at it than other people.”
As gaming technology has grown, so has the eSports culture. Stadiums such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Seoul World Cup Stadium in South Korea have been filled with thousands of fans for professional eSports matches.
“It’s just been a rapid change from things people did alone in their basement or online with their friends,” Pehler said. “Most people just don’t understand how a video game can attract full stadiums of people.”
Pehler said there is a good chance that eventually, Butler will have their own eSports club. The club would need to form with the approval from Butler SGA.
“People like doing things they enjoy with other people,” he said. “It’s really just up to someone who’s willing to take the steps to get it done.”
As for getting an athletic department-backed eSports team, Pehler said that will probably not happen.
“They would need to realize that eSports are not electronic sports, they are sports themselves,” he said. “They require the same dedication.”
There is no current plan for eSports to be included as a National Collegiate Athletic Association sport. The NCAA has not issued an official statement on eSports.