Forget swimming, what if your high school offered esports as an extracurricular “athletic” activity? While some may laugh, that’s the dream of Jordan Zietz, a 17-year-old entrepreneur who wants to bring esports competitions to high schools.
Esports competitions are already making headway at American colleges and universities, with some even offering scholarships to e-athletes. Central Connecticut State University is the latest to join the scene. Read more about how esports is expanding to become more like traditional sports below:
An Esports League Just for High Schoolers
All-Star eSports League, which Zietz founded, recently secured a seven-figure investment from PowerA president Eric Bensussen. (The exact figure is undisclosed.) All-Star hopes to become a free esports league for high schoolers who want to seriously compete in Overwatch, Fortnite, and even Super Smash Bros championships.
Zietz hopes All-Star would become what high schools teams are for football and basketball, in that it becomes a successful feeder system for college-level or professional league teams. All-Star is aiming to offer hopeful e-athletes scholarships and prizes to ascend, much like traditional scholarships for major traditional sports.
Professional esports is estimated to become a billion-dollar industry by 2020. Currently, prize pools for professional-level championships go as high up as 300 million. There’s significant interest in attracting the right talent to build up teams that could compete at the higher stakes level.
According to Zietz, high schools are very much into the idea. “A vast majority of schools are saying how can we get our students involved in esports, especially because it pertains particularly to the students who aren’t currently involved in other extracurricular sports,” Zietz told the news site Venture Beat.
Zietz isn’t the only student with a high school esports league, but his might be the first to allow students to compete for free and offer serious scholarships. All-Star currently has more than 5,000 registered teams, according to Zietz. He hopes that business will grow as major leagues become hungry for young talent as the industry becomes more mainstream.
Central Connecticut State University Launches Esports Center
Central Connecticut State University is the latest to join the National Association of Collegiate eSports. The university recently launched its own ESports Center, where students will participate in competitive teams playing Overwatch and League of Legends. CCSU is also one of more than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. to offer esports scholarships.
The CCSU center has its own hiring coach to recruit players and sign teams up for tournaments. Where sports exercise equipment was once the norm, there are now dozens of high-priced computer rigs. The e-athletes would get their own intercollegiate uniforms. Pretty much everything is similar to traditional college sports.
The university is currently setting aside about $300,000 as scholarships for incoming e-athletes. Not stopping at that, there would actually be academic offerings in the esports field as well. In the coming semester, students can enroll in courses like digital storytelling and game design.
CCSU players will primarily compete against other collegiate players in popular esports events, like the ECAC in Danbury. ECAC currently has 52 colleges competing in six different types of video games. The collegiate athletes can’t compete in major league tournaments at the moment, but if they show promise, they may get recruited.
Esports is currently delegated to its own realm and is not counted as a legitimate sport. That might change in the future. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, for example, considered making esports an official sport.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has toyed with the idea as well, but its members are reluctant for several reasons. Colleges are concerned about how esports would fit into mandatory Title IX compliance, given how esports is overwhelmingly dominated by male players. Concerns have been raised regarding the violent and sexist themes in some of the video games used in the competition.
Esports teams win massive cash prizes, and in some cases huge sponsorship deals as well. While this makes esports highly appealing to players, the cash involved also comes into conflict with NCAA eligibility requirements, which don’t currently give out cash prizes like major league sports. It’s possible that these rules may change, given the rise in popularity of esports.