PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WOWK) — Staying up late, playing video games is finally starting to pay off for some. In the past few years, esports have exploded in growth. Online gaming tournaments have started to rival traditional sports like football and basketball in their size and viewership, as thousands of fans pack arenas and cheer on their favorite gamers. Sounds like something you would see on a Saturday in the fall at a college campus, right?
Well, pretty soon, you could.
Esports have been around for nearly two decades, but are fairly new to the collegiate arena. Nearly 200 colleges have begun to offer varsity Esports teams. And more than 30 of those schools now offer scholarships.
The University of Pikeville was the second school nationwide to offer scholarships to online gamers.
“Getting to come to school for video games, getting paid to do that, getting scholarship money for that, yeah… that’s a no brainer,” said first-ever U Pike Esports scholarship recipient Nick Collum.
And esports student-athletes are truly that … student-athletes. They practice just as much as traditional college athletes, balance the same schedules, and also have their own home court.
“The athleticism that goes into some of these games, it’s mind-blowing,” said Pikeville Head Coach Jefferson Carman. “The skills that some of these players have, some of that natural talent that you see, a lot of this is reflexes or response times.”
“It’s not surprising that some of your best athletes turn into some of your best e-sports players. It’s just a matter of where you put your time.”
There is one main difference, esports are not governed by the NCAA.
The governing body of most college athletics recently voted to let universities and independent organizations like NACE (National Association of Collegiate Esports) govern the collegiate Esports programs.
The NCAA’s decision to stay hands-off is why some varsity esports teams do not fall under the jurisdiction of their school’s athletic department yet instead fall under the category of student activities or student affairs.
Viewership and revenue in esports are starting to catch up and even surpass more traditional sports.
“Have you ever taken a look at the numbers? All the money that gets poured into Esports?” asked Collum. “‘League of Legends’ garners more views yearly than the super bowl.”
At the professional level, Esports earned more than $900 million in 2018 in sponsorship, advertising, merchandise, and ticket sales.