eSports level up

Photo by Morgan Fries

By Madeleine Orona burgos

eSports are becoming a new avenue towards higher education for students, with schools in California granting eSports scholarships for competitive video game playing. These video games are mostly multiplayer and include “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Dota 2,” “Counter-strike: Global Offensive” and “Super Smash Bros.” Since the eSports explosion in the early 2000s, game developers have been structuring their games toward this intersection of competitive activity and videogame cultures.

eSports were largely coordinated by friends or students at schools before the consolidation of a single formal professional league. The first eSports gathering was a “Spacewar Olympics” that was hosted by students at Stanford University in 1972. Students were invited to watch gamers play the popular game of the time, “Spacewar.” The grand prize was not money but rather a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

Eight years later, the company Atari held a competition for their game “Space Invaders” that garnered 10,000 participants, making it the largest-scale competition of the time. Players with extremely high scores were even inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records and featured in Life and Time magazines. The phenomenon was even large enough that a competitive video game tournament was featured in the 1982 motion picture “Tron.” Larger tournaments surfaced during the 1990s, when television shows were aired covering the them in Australia, Britain and Canada.

The biggest epicenter for eSports currently is South Korea. The boom is attributed to the mass production of broadband internet companies in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis in which Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines all faced extreme economic duress. Around the early 2000s the Korea e-Sports Association, the Korean Ministry of Culture, and Sports and Tourism in Korea worked together to promote and regulate the widely growing industry.

Even one of Overwatch’s most popular characters is an eSports player. Hana Song or, as many players know her, “D.va”, was not only a playable character in the Overwatch canon but is also a high-level eSports player in her national league at age 19. D.va is currently on hiatus from the world of esports in order to serve in the Korean Army. D.va’s trademark bunny symbol is also used as a figure for the feminist group National D.va Association, mainly made up of Overwatch enthusiasts. The group chose D.va’s symbol as their own when a female professional Overwatch player was accused of cheating because many believed that in a male-dominated field her 80 percent win rate was impossible for a girl. This group also gained fame for participating in the South Korean stretch of the Women’s March on Jan. 21 of this year.

It was not until recently that eSports gained a more legitimate status which came with a higher viewership of events and created monetary prizes for tournament players. The number of professional tournaments went from around 10 as of 2000 to nearly 260 a decade later. Now, debate has started over whether or not the eSports league can really be considered “sports.” ESPN correspondents and contributors like John Skipper and Bryant Gumbel have openly cast doubt over the athletic merit of the activity. However, there is a push from many to reconsider. Just this year France and the Philippines passed legislation to regulate their own eSports activities. In the 2018 Asian games, a multi-sport competition for Asian nations, eSports will be an exhibition event and in the 2022 games they will be a medal event. The International Olympic Committee is even in talks with Paris, the host city for the 2024 Olympic Games, to consider including eSports in the worldwide competition. Regardless of divisive opinions on its merits, the eSports league is climbing up the ladder of the sports world and becoming bigger than ever.

Colleges have started offering scholarships for students interested in eSports. University of California Irvine, Robert Morris University, University of Pikeville and Columbia University have recently formed teams and granted them an allotment of scholarship funds to incentivize enrollment. Could LC be next?

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