ESports will Take the Virtual Field at Bryant & Stratton College this Year

Blue and white Bobcats esports logoParents everywhere are being proven wrong. You can, in fact, earn a paycheck playing video games.

The best in the field command six figure salaries. Now, the Bryant & Stratton College Bobcats are crafting teams, constructing a 500-square foot esports Lab and preparing to not just compete but to dominate the growing sport. 

“We’re gearing up towards building a team and growing so that our students could potentially be recruited for a professional league,” said esports Head Coach James Claiborne. “We are aiming to build a reputation and become a force in this arena.”

Esports encompasses a variety of online, team-based video games. Club and professional teams were established early in the 2000s and interest has been growing since. Now, 100 colleges across the nation belong to NACE, the largest governing body of college eSport teams.  

Bryant & Stratton plans to join NACE this year and offer scholarships to new and current students starting in 2019. Currently NACE member colleges support more than 1,500 student athletes and offer more than $9 million in eSports scholarship and aid. 

Like other physical college sports, teams are divided into club and varsity level with the more skilled players representing their school in tournaments. Also, like other sports, eSport teams are expected to receive significant support from their alma mater such as facilities, equipment and scholarships. Claiborne said the league is waiting on a ruling from NACE as to whether virtual students who do not attend class on campus can participate.

Once the Bobcats begin competing they will face teams from East Coast Polytechnic Institute, Averett University, Barton College, Boise State, and the University of Oklahoma, among others. 

At Bryant & Stratton College’s Hampton, Va. Campus, a 500-square foot esports Lab is under construction. The futuristic-looking digs feature blue accent lights, dimmable LED lighting, 15 high-end gaming stations outfitted with Lenovo gaming PCs and comfortable gaming chairs. Larger high definition screens will be used for game review during training.

When the team officially kicks off, Bobcat teams will focus on three games: League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League. Unlike other college sports, schools can field more than one team for each type of game.

Bryant & Stratton College students will follow a training schedule and improve their skills until they are ready to compete on the varsity level, Claiborne said. He added that he enjoys how inclusive the sport is for all types of students.

“With this sport there is no type of person you have to be, you don’t have to be in a certain shape. esports is much more inclusive,” he said. 

And the crowds that watch are huge.

According to ESPN, the 2014 League of Legends championship drew an online viewership of 27 million people, which is more than the NBA Finals (15.5 million), Major League Baseball’s World Series (13.8 million) and the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Finals (5 million). DOTA 2 – another popular esport – drew 20 million that same year according to ESPN.

Many of those championships charged a ticket fee for viewers. The sport has earned coverage from media giant ESPN and several NBA franchises also own eSports teams.

“You’re not just watching the person sitting in a chair, you’re watching the game,” Claiborne said. “These games are very competitive and there is a lot of action.”

Claiborne said video gaming has been his passion since he turned on his first Atari 2600 system as a child. His goal is to build his team and grow his students so they could potentially be recruited to play professionally.

And he doesn’t expect to see just Information Technology students at signups.

“That’s kind of a common misconception,” he said. “Everyone assumes these teams are going to be IT majors. That’s not true. Everybody wants to game,” he said.

The skills required to be a successful eSports player are significant skills for most degree programs.

“One of the great things is that from gaming you learn team building, problem solving, attention to detail and how to work virtually. These are all skills you need to be successful in the classroom and eventually the work force,” Claiborne said. “Esports prepares you every step in personal, academic and career training.”

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