WASHINGTON: After months of planning, Kent State is getting closer to having their very own eSports team. Since the creation of a Kent eSports team at the Kent Salem campus last fall by Salem student Donald Larabee and Salem Human Studies Professor Dr. Steven Toepfer, more campuses have devoted time and resources to creating an eSports program.
On the Kent main campus, Toepfer has been working with Project Director of Kent State System Integration, Tim Pagliari and Jesse Wray, a Graduate Assistant, is planning the eSports Tournament scheduled for May 5th.
eSprts Overwatch Team or Solo Play
There will be 32 teams of six for Overwatch. Players sign up with a team of the choice. Players can go on the eSports discord in order to find a team.
The prize for both events is college scholarship money from sponsors in the Kent area. Wray and Toepfer said they could not disclose the names or how many sponsors are currently contributing to the tournament but hope to announce that information soon.
The scholarships are for students who are currently at Kent or plan to attend a Kent campus.
eSports Overwatch Prize Money
The Prize money for the Overwatch tournament is six thousand dollars while the Hearthstone prize is somewhere around $800. Wray says that once everything is final with the sponsors, additional information will be available.
There will also be smaller competitions for games like Super Smash Bros. and League of Legends, but no scholarship money will be offered for the winners.
“There are a lot of people out there who want to build teams or join teams for all these different games that we just haven’t been able to check the level of interest for,” Wray said, “And I think that this tournament is a great way to pull people in and talk to them about what else they want to see.”
eSports and SPACEWAR
The first reported eSports tournament was in 1972 at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. It consisted of 24 college students playing a game called “SPACEWAR”.
While eSports have been around for a while it has increased in popularity in the past few years. Official eSports teams started popping up around 2006, and different organizations that have held tournaments soon after.
The first collegiate eSports team at Robert Morris University in 2014.
Since then, 58 different colleges have established eSports programs. Some of which include the University of California-Irvine, Stephens College and Boise State University.
While some of the logistics of the upcoming tournament are still unnknown, Toepfer was able to speak more about the state of the eSports program on other regional campuses.
“We are going to be the first one to include all of our regionals (regional campuses), there is a faculty leader on every one of those campuses now,” Toepfer said.
eSports Cost to Colleges
At the regional campus level, each campus is allocating anywhere between $3,000 to $40,000 to fund an eSports program. This money will pay for student scholarships, equipment, practice spaces, and salaries.
Two of the campuses have already committed to contributing $40,000 to the program. Toepfer said he could not disclose which campuses were contributing how much but did say that all the campuses no matter how much money they are contributing are looking for ways to raise more money for their eSports programs.
Colleges now recruiting eSports player
Salem campus has already started actively recruiting high school students for an Overwatch eSports team.
The most recent recruit is Riley Ziggler, who attends Salem High school. Ziggler will receive a $500 scholarship to play Overwatch for Kent Salem which will be renewable every year.
The program will include eight different locations allowing for players from all the campuses to be able to interact and play with each other.
Each of the campuses eSports programs will have individual operators, but Toepfer’s vision for the future is to have all the campus eSport teams come together to practice, compete and even form an all-star team made up of the best players across all the campuses.
“It really matches the one university mission that president Warren is very serious about. I think the eSports initiative is the perfect one university answer to that call,” said Toepfer.
The hope is to one day have all-star teams where Kent students from every campus can play and interact with each other to represent Kent in all kinds of different ways.
The future of eSports
newzoo, a market researcher, predicts that eSports will earn $906 million by the end of the year, which is a 36 percent increase over 2017.
In an industry survey that newzoo gave to teams late last year, they expect eSports to take about five to ten more years to mature fully as a business. However, brands and agencies expect the industry to fully professionalize in the next three to five years.
There will be multiple factors that dictate the future of eSports: new fans, the growth of mobile eSports, franchise structure and team profitability.
“On its current trajectory, we estimate the eSports industry will reach $1.4 billion by 2020. If any of these factors accelerate, a more optimistic scenario places revenue at 2.4 billion,” says newzoo.
If newzoo’s estimations are correct then that can create a very favorable environment for eSports teams not only at Kent campuses but other college campuses.
Seeking sponsorship of eSports at Kent State
A big step to help raise money that Toepfer and Wray are taking is trying to find sponsorships for the eSports program. They were not ready to say exactly what companies they are negotiating with other than that they are local to Kent.
However, they are setting their sights much higher than just local Kent businesses. They also hope to one day talk to big external companies that reach a national or global consumer base.
“We have been looking into tech companies, food and beverage, business and finance and anything that we think would make a great contribution to not just our program but to our players individually, so we can build a strong program for them,” Wray said.
Toepfer and Wray have also been looking into getting involved with Tespa.
Tespa acts as an event support network for college gaming organizations. It has an official Partnership with Blizzard Entertainment with which it has hosted online leagues for various games. One of which being Overwatch.
eSports and player health
Other sponsors Toepfer hopes to pursue are in the health industry. He believes that it is important to keep the students playing on these varsity eSports teams healthy and physically active.
“We are looking at people that have a focus on health because I think clearly that we can’t avoid the fact that eSports can be sedentary. We are actively going to pursue sponsors that can help our student gamers to get more involved with being more physical activity,” Topfer said.
Toepfer explains that the eSports initiative has been a huge project still, but there are still questions. However, it is amazing how many people are showing interest in the program.
“This is really exciting, you know just over a hundred years ago this was happening with athletics and people were saying things like ‘why would you have sports at a university, you go there to learn?’, and now it’s completely ingrained in our culture. I think there is no reason it can’t be this way for eSports,” says Dr. Toepfer.