What are esports and should W&M Have a Team?

Image credit: Jessica Conditt / Engadget

T.W.A.M.P. — it’s a term used early and often in one’s William & Mary career. Listed in the esteemed Urban Dictionary, Twamp is defined as, “an acronym for ‘Typical William and Mary Person.’ Used to describe the awkward, bookish, ugly, WoW-playing (computer-game playing) nerds that infest the College of William and Mary.”

When used in conversation, Urban Dictionary brings us this eloquent exchange to illustrate the idea further:

  • Girl 1: Hey, do you see that guy over there?
  • Girl 2: The one with the acne, hiking backpack, and no social skills?
  • Girl 1: Yeah. He’s in my psych class. He’s such a Twamp.

But what if I told you that those very same kids that were once (and largely still) referred to as “computer nerds” are gaining college scholarships across the nation for their skills? Moreover, what if I told you that a 16-year old recently won a Fortnite tournament, netting him $3 million? No, this is not a joke.

According to The Atlantic: “Today, the average salary for a League of Legends professional is about $300,000, and professionals in Counter-Strike play for $1 million prize pools several times a year. High-profile colleges are vying to compete, with lucrative incentive packages.

The University of Utah hands out $1,000 a year to each of the players participating in its esports curriculum. UC Irvine distributes up to $6,000 to its varsity rosters, and $1,000 to its junior-varsity rosters. New York University partnered with the fighting-game-tournament organizer Evo to pay the entire tuition of a lucky fan who wants to transmute his or her esports knowledge into a game-design career.”

It’s easy to read these headlines and brush them aside as nothing more than a fad; but I assure you, esports are here to stay. As college athletics departments across the country begin staking their claim into this other-worldly venture, we’re not here to say that W&M should cut one sport and gain an esports team. 

We’re simply here to point to the fact that it would at least behoove a school such as William & Mary to at least consider the long-term esports environment as a potential avenue to explore in the future.

So let’s learn more.

To help our ignorant selves, we enlisted an actual subject matter expert and friend of the Blog, Jesse Hecht, for a Q&A.

Jesse is the Director of Finance and Operations for the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF). In this role, he’s helping shape the operations, financials, governance, and structure for the esports collegiate landscape.

He formerly worked at Deloitte Consulting and HSBC Bank USA and recently finished his Master of Science in Sports Management from the Columbia University of New York. As an added bonus, Jesse grew up playing ice hockey and is an avid NHL fan and player.

So let’s get to it.

Roughly how many schools currently have official esports teams? Do you envision this to change in the near future, and when?

Most universities and colleges have gaming clubs that are focused around gaming together for student engagement. The real litmus test is how many schools have official, sanctioned esports on campus and are funding esports scholarships. Well over 100 institutions are currently awarding at least partial scholarships. Some of these schools are smaller with a local student population. However, larger D1 universities are starting to come into the fold, many of which are supporting clubs and starting varsity level programs and joining the Electronic Gaming Federation.

Which schools currently dominate the scene, and how did they do it?

There are definitely schools that take esports more seriously, provide funding, and build actual programs, like UT Arlington, Butler University and schools from the MAAC conference. The key to success is much like traditional college sports, you need strong leadership, planning, and organization. The difference in the case of esports is the players tend to participate more. They have more ownership of the sport because it’s so new and it’s their world. I absolutely love that aspect about this space.

If a university wants to set up an esports team, what steps do they need to take?

At EGF, we have a complete process that helps schools build tailored collegiate esports programs from the start, or to help them evolve an existing program. The key to building any program on campus is to get leadership support and come together on the stakeholders’ goals. From that point on, it’s all about communication, follow-through, and experts to guide the process and make sure everything is on track.

Roughly how much does it cost for a school to set up an esports program?

I hate to use this non-answer, but it really depends. Some programs start with a computer lab that already exists and evolve to having a dedicated esports venue, which can engage thousands of students a week and hold a few thousand fans. What’s great right now is that there are so many students that want to be involved. They often take leadership roles early on like coaching or working with school administrators on budgeting and scheduling.

What are some of the most popular games currently being played on the collegiate esports scene?

Right now, I’d say Rocket League, Overwatch, League of Legends, and Super Smash Brothers are the most popular. You tend to see these games in the competitive realm because players love them, they’re relatively appropriate for all ages and most schools are comfortable fielding teams.

What schools have the “ideal” profile for an esports program — is there even such thing?

It’s really any school that wants to build a program that helps aid the goals of their academic institution. There are no real traits or characteristics that make a school ideal. It’s really about leadership buy-in and understanding that this is an investment that may have some monetary benefits but could be a true differentiator for potential students and recruitment. In addition to generating revenue back to the school and bringing winning accolades, the long game is to have engaged students on campus turn into alumni who are more likely to give back to their school.

Why should players go to college for esports when they have the option to go pro at an early age?

This is a common question or even argument against the growth potential of the collegiate space. I like to use a football analogy to explain… When I was in college, I had a few friends on the football team and we ended up having some classes together. None of my close friends made it professionally but did receive a great education. That being said, they didn’t leave the university knowing how to be a head coach, work in team operations, or any other football specific job.

They discussed sports leaders and businesses in our management classes, yet we never officially learned about real training or in-depth education specific to the sports industry. Some colleges offer a sports management degree, which is great but not everywhere. Some collegiate esports programs will have a strong academic component where students can learn the esports business in all forms even if they don’t make it as professional players. EGF engages students wherever possible in multiple capacities, including our shoutcaster academy where students can learn to “call” a game on a live stream.

I’ll never fault anyone for believing in themselves and going for it at the professional level. Professional esports is extremely elite and only a few make it just like in traditional sports, so having a collegiate back up plan is important.

Overall, do you think it’s worth it for a school to set up an esports program, and why?

Absolutely. The students are demanding esports programming as it has become integral to their college selection process and can be a vital differentiator between schools. Soon, there will be opportunities to monetize/generate revenue and possibly help other budgets on campus. Also, universities and their students are shaping esports programs by engaging a new type of student resulting in positive impacts on campus.

So the next time you see a “TWAMP” walking around W&M’s campus, just remember: he or she might just be the next esports star to make a million dollars in the next Fortnite tournament.

Thanks again to Jesse for taking the time to educate us further! For more info, follow EGF on Twitter and Instagram!

Roll Tribe Roll.

 

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