Colleges and universities across the globe, though especially those in the USA and South Korea, are increasingly offering opportunities for gamers to ease the transition from the amateur to professional scene.
Organised video game competition has existed for about as long as video games have; competition being inherent in video games. But while amateur online and offline events have existed since the very beginning, professional video gaming, commonly referred to as eSports, have steadily been gathering popularity since the late 2000s, with spectatorship and therefore advertising and consequently funding further increasing the scope and reach of the burgeoning movement.
Traditional Sporting Scholarships
Many universities and colleges offer scholarships and grants to students practicing more traditional sports, as you may already be aware. Football, basketball, baseball, American football, gymnastics, track and field, hockey, tennis, golf and more… If you are an accomplished athlete, there are many scholarships available for you. Some will even offer full ride scholarships for athletic achievement, which includes not only tuition and fees, but also books, room and board, supplies and sometimes even living expenses. They may also even cover study abroad costs, like flights and other fees.
eSports, as they are still in their relative infancy, are yet to receive the same recognition.
While there have been movements to rectify this, there is, somewhat understandably, resistance in including eSports within the realm of traditional sports. Video games, it has been said, lack the physicality and outdoor nature of athletics.
Yet they require exceptional hand-eye co-ordination, careful planning, precise timing and skilful execution. And while they lack the physicality of football or basketball, video games aren’t entirely removed from physical qualities- nimbleness of the hands and forearm strength can often be required.
The Legitimization of eSports
One potential method seen as capable of legitimizing eSports is via the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee in October 2017 acknowledged the growing popularity of eSports, concluding that competitive video gaming can be considered a sporting activity as the players will train and prepare with an intensity comparable to athletes in traditional sports.
There still remain barriers to eSports inclusion within the Olympics though, as the games included would have to align with Olympic values, rules and regulations. By which, there can be no violence within the games and that there is a lack of global sanctioning body for eSports. It seems likely that if the Olympics were to include video games (there have been suggestions of including them in the Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Summer Olympics) the games included would need to be centred around traditional sports simulations, such as FIFA, or the NBA 2K series.
These Olympic developments have been progressing alongside other notable cultural events, legitimizing professional video gaming. In 2013, Canadian League of Legends player Danny ‘Shiphtur’ Le became the first pro gamer to receive an American P-1A visa, a category designated for Internationally Recognized Athletes.
In 2014, Turkey’s Ministry of Youth and Sports started issuing eSports player licenses to those certified as professionals.
In 2016, the French government started working on a project to regulate and recognize eSports. The Games and Amusements Board of the Philippines started issuing athletic licenses to Filipino eSports players who are vouched by a professional eSports team in July 2017.
Meanwhile, several eSports events have been run alongside traditional sporting competition. The Asian Indoor Games now includes a video game medal-winning event, as well as the Asian Games, the top-level Asian multi-sport competition. Events for StarCraft II and Steep were held prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Modern eSports Leagues
The recently developed professional league for Overwatch, the Overwatch League, regularly pulls in over 150,000 live viewers, with a peak of over 350,000 live viewers. Players are guaranteed a base salary of at least USD $50,000 per year, healthcare, housing and retirement savings plans. Some star players, such as Jay ‘Sinatraa’ Won and Brandon ‘Seagull’ Larned earn over USD $150,000 per year.
Dota 2 players, such as Kuro ‘KuroKy’ Takhasomi and Amer ‘Miracle-‘ Al-Barkawi have each personally won more than USD $3,000,000 in prize money alone. That doesn’t include advertising revenue or other personal income streams, like wages, coaching, investments, or money earned streaming, on sites such as Twitch.
Recent video game revelation Fortnite is also developing its own eSports competition, with the prize pool starting at USD $100 million. To put that into perspective, last year’s Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour, the primary professional golf tour, had a prize pool of $321 million. The PGA Tour has existed for 50 years. Fortnite’s competition is yet to begin.
As eSports continue to be legitimized, universities and colleges are trying to position themselves ahead of the curve and become the go-to destinations for prospective professional video gamers.
One such institution is Harrisburg University located in Pennsylvania, United States. Harrisburg has recently awarded 16 full-ride scholarships, after a lengthy recruitment process and months of try-outs for incoming students who excel in Hearthstone, League of Legends, and Overwatch.
Robert Morris University was the first college in the U.S. to offer video gaming scholarships, where students can earn up to USD $19,000 a year. Robert Morris University eSports athletes also don team uniforms and post-game meals, just like any other collegiate sports team.
Ashland University’s eSports program, currently based on League of Legends and Overwatch that they will be extending to Fortnite, offers students up to USD $4,000 in scholarships.
Harrisburg, Robert Morris and Ashland are all members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), an association that aims to develop college-level eSports in the USA. There are currently 63 institutions that make up NACE.
Needless to say, eSports are becoming big business and universities are desperate to be at the front of that queue. Not only will successful video gamers promote their own institutions, the prestige associated with success will likely make these institutions more renowned going forward. They are, in a sense, trying to get ahead of the curve by offering these opportunities for potential eSports superstars.
And it’s not only institutions in the US that are offering these scholarships. eSports is perhaps most popular in South Korea, where it has been supported by the government since 2000. This has led to South Korean success in many eSports tournaments, though the USA, China, Japan and many countries in Europe, like Sweden, France and the United Kingdom are steadily catching up.
Chung-Ang University, a top ten South Korean university is just one of many South Korean institutions that considers eSports alongside traditional sports and so offers scholarships as valuable as those offered for football and baseball.
In addition, eSports has begun to be added to certain high school curriculums in South Korea, Sweden and Finland. As of August 2016, the Norwegian Garnes Vidaregåande Skule in Bergen offers eSports as a sport in its program. Meanwhile, the first students of Sweden's new eSports curriculum enrolled at Arlanda Gymnasiet school in Märsta in 2015.
Studying Video Games
Traditional sporting scholarships will sometimes require the student to study a subject in particular, Sports Science, for example, or a degree Coaching that particular sport. Other times, scholars are free to study what they will, with the added caveat of making time for their preferred sport.
When it comes to eSports, things are similar. Certain scholarships will be supplementary, as in they require a full-time education, with video games forming something more extracurricular. Some though are more closely related to video game degrees and courses, like Game Design, Computer Technology or similarly computer and video game based courses.
The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), located in New York, USA, has launched one of the most respected Game Design and Development programs in the US. RIT has caught on to the momentum generated by gamers and the school’s ‘Masters of Science in Game Design and Development’ departs from traditional curricula, affecting how Game Design is taught and understood across the United States. The program offers scholarships to academically talented individuals that are fluent in game design.
The University of Advancing Technology, situated in Arizona, USA, offers the following scholarships:
· Thinking Scholarships: UAT Thinking Scholarships recognise and honour students whose original works and ideas aid the University’s efforts to elevate critical thinking.
· Mission-Driven Scholarships: Mission-Driven Scholarships help UAT students uphold and embody the tech-driven mission of the University.
· Financial Need Scholarships: Financial Need Scholarships are designed to alleviate the financial constraints of attending college.
Many shorter programs are also offered by institutions, most of which are located in the United States.
Emagination Game Design exists to give high school gamers the chance to take part in an intensive summer game design educational program. Youth designers even get the chance to show off their creations to professional game developers. College bound game designers and developers benefit from Emagination’s Rick Goodman Scholarship Program. Talented and motivated students pursuing game design credentials earn tuition scholarships from the Goodman Program.
The summer seminar program on video game design hosted by University of Southern California (USC) gives game designers an opportunity to access the latest developments within the video game industry. Students compete for USC Interactive Entertainment Summer Camp Scholarships by writing essays detailing their interests and aptitudes in game design and development.
Female Representation Within eSports
Scholarships are of course not only offered for those with exceptional skill or those deserving of monetary assistance. Some scholarships are also available to aid with representation within the industry, which in video games tends towards the representation of women.
Video games are typically associated with young men. Yet characteristics such as age, education and income actually don’t affect gamers very much. Both in the playing and the developing of video games, age ranges from teenage to old age, from little/no education to doctorates and from those earning virtually nothing to multimillionaires.
That is not that case when it comes to gender representation in video games.
While studies have found that about 48% of video gamers are women, only 6% identify as “gamers” (in contrast to 15% of men). This contrast becomes even more stark both within video game development and eSports.
Women currently only constitute 22% of the video game industry as developers, designers, artists, programmers and so on. There are few concrete statistics for female representation in eSports, though the estimate is typically around 10% female to 90% male. For viewers of eSports, even this may seem like an exaggeration. Of the 129 players in the Overwatch League, there is one female player, Seyeon ‘Geguri’ Kim. This means the Overwatch League is only made up of 0.78% female players.
Clearly, changes have to be made to how eSports is viewed and received by women of all ages and so scholarships are often made especially available to women.
Southern Methodist University – Guildhall (SMU) launched a scholarship program benefiting women enrolled in game design programs. The Game Industry Scholarship for Women provides educational funding for technology-oriented female college students. Applicants demonstrate a talent for game design and increase their chances of winning by submitting essays articulating the contributions they hope to make to the gaming industry. Scholarships are valued up to the total outstanding tuition balance owed, after other financial aid has been applied.
Stephens College, Missouri, USA, is a member of the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE), and it is also the first varsity collegiate all women's eSports team that also offers scholarships.
eSports Are the Future
Just as in traditional sports, the chances of making it to the top of professional video gaming is slim. Nevertheless, the opportunities for a career in video games continue to expand, whether that be behind the scenes (in one of the many roles available, whether they be artistic, mathematical, scientific or business-minded) or streaming video games live on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming, or even editing videos of oneself playing then uploading them to YouTube, Vimeo or other video site.
Video games are no longer something just for teenagers in their basements- it is a multibillion dollar industry that may, perhaps even sooner than we imagine, eclipse traditional sporting events. It would make sense then, for potential students to consider it as a valuable option for a future career. And if you are able to get a scholarship to help you along the way? Then all the better.