Game on: Esports shifting paradigm of athletics at colleges and universities nationwide
BGSU Esports considering scholarships to recruit top talent and remain competitive
By Laren Kowalczyk '07
In many ways, Zack Boyer is like any other athlete.
He practices his sport for two or more hours most days. He’s part of a team that competes at the collegiate level, and he’s focused on winning.
What makes the Bowling Green State University senior different is his chosen sport: gaming.
Esports has been steadily gaining popularity at colleges and universities nationwide for several years, appealing to a generation of students like Boyer who grew up with technology.
“I was probably 5 or 6 years old when I first got into gaming,” said Boyer, a first-generation student from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. “When I got a Game Boy in third grade, that’s when things really took off.”
The National Association of Collegiate Esports expects the on-campus presence of esports to continue rising as more institutions create varsity teams and offer scholarships alongside traditional collegiate sports.
There were only seven varsity esports teams when NACE was established in 2016. Today, more than 240 colleges and universities have varsity teams, totaling more than 5,000 student-athletes and $16 million in scholarships and aid annually.
For now, the esports team uses a gaming space in Kohl Hall for practices and games and is poised to grow. It's equipped with top-of-the-line computers, gaming chairs and headphones.
Along with continuing to expand and pursuing varsity status, BGSU Esports Director Ben Hammond said the goal is to award scholarships.
“We may not be an official varsity team in terms of our organizational and operational structure, but we are competing at a collegiate level,” Hammond said. "We need to stay competitive and having scholarships will help with bringing in more students."
Dr. Brian Heilmeier, director of student engagement in the Division of Student Affairs, said as esports teams continue to gain prominence in college athletics, it’s important BGSU move in that direction.
“We want to be inclusive of the interests of all of our students,” Heilmeier said. “Trends show us that students today see the opportunities available in competitive online gaming, and they want to be a part of it at the collegiate level.”
Benefits of gaming
BGSU Esports began as a club sport and transitioned to a more official entity in 2019 due to its growth and popularity. Hammond said there are roughly 70 students on the esports team.
While some aspire to compete or work in esports after college, many students simply enjoy gaming. Regardless of their goal, Hammond said students are building teamwork, discipline, resilience and communication skills they can apply to numerous careers and industries.
“There are a lot of physical and mental aspects to gaming,” Hammond said. “While the physical requirements may not be the same as traditional sports, these students are still spending a similar amount of time preparing themselves to be competitive in this market. They practice, work as a team, communicate and strategize, all crucial skills for life in and beyond college.”
Boyer is a team manager for Rocket League, one of the four games for which there are teams at BGSU. The others include Overwatch 2, League of Legends and Valorant.
Boyer recruits players, organizes practices, reviews footage from previous games and signs up for competitions. Had it not been for BGSU Esports, Boyer said he’s not confident he would have committed to completing his degree in business administration.
“One of the main reasons I stayed in college was esports and having this network and community to hang out with,” he said. “I think it’s important to have this opportunity for students who enjoy gaming and can see a future career in it.”
He plans to pursue esports director positions after graduation next fall.
Alumni in esports
BGSU alumnus Kevin Cedar ‘17 entered the world of esports in 2021 when he accepted a job as esports content manager and social media manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cedar creates digital content for the Cavs Legion Gaming Club, the NBA 2K League affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA 2K League, created in 2018, was the first esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league.
Cedar coordinates media days with players, shoots photography and video and manages social channels for the Cavs Legion.
Though Cedar didn’t participate in esports at BGSU, he said the versatility of his degree in visual communication technology prepared him well for what he considers his dream job.
“I wanted to go into VCT because I felt like it was more versatile, and it was going to teach me exactly what I needed for a successful career,” Cedar said. “It doesn’t limit me to one area. I learned graphic design, web design, photography and videography. With VCT, you know how to do a little bit of everything, and that's exactly what I do with my job now."
Updated: 06/16/2023 10:04AM