Professional video gaming, also known as esports, is taking off at universities across the country, and according to researchers, an estimated 30 million Americans will watch esports this year.
To take advantage of the booming industry, some universities are spending thousands – in some cases, millions – of dollars on building new esports facilities.
Juan Bohorquez, alumnus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, said he helped start the esports program at the school in 2018 and pitched the importance of bringing more technology dedicated to the program to campus.
“When I graduated, I got to see the growth as a whole, from there being high school, collegiate and even professional competitions,” Bohorquez said.
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Administrators at Illinois Tech said esports have since exploded on campus, prompting plans to expand the program’s facility.
April Welch, director of esports at Illinois Tech, said a majority of the program’s players are majoring in computer science or business, and their video game experience applies to a wide range of jobs.
“There are content creators, coaches, psychologists, all the jobs that you would think about,” Welch said.
Miami University is home to one of the country’s highest-ranked esports programs, which has been described as “the sport that defines the college generation” by program co-director Glenn Platt.
“Tier 1 esports basically means these are games that have very large prize pools and incredibly large numbers of people playing,” Platt said. “Games like League of Legends.”
Similar to other college athletes, Platt said schools are recruiting esports players by offering scholarships. Some students play as a simple hobby, while others have hopes of going professional.
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According to Esports Insider, players at the top level can be paid millions per year by their organization. The player’s income can depend on how many fans are watching the game.
In the game VALORANT, many players earn between $20,000 and $40,000 per month, according to Digiday.
Isaiah Perez, Illinois Tech’s Esports and Digital Arts program coordinator, said merit scholarships of around $5,000 per year are typically offered by the university when it is recruiting players. Now, there are 100 competitive gamers playing on teams in at least nine titles, ranging from Super Smash Brothers to Counter Strike.
Though the program is growing, Perez mentioned the school does offer options to play for fun, too.
“We are trying to open those doors up to those casual gamers, making sure that the students who recreationally want to be involved without [the] program have that space,” Perez said.