Esports clubs on college campuses have become the norm in North America. No matter what kind of school or what kind of area, there’s always someone that has a passion for games and wants to share the thrill of competition with their peers. What is not the norm yet is official school programs that carry a budget, a staff, and have the full backing of an administration. Schools like Coker College believe that it’s time for that to change, and their newly developed program imbues optimism into a future where esports isn’t just a club activity for a handful of gamers.
An important aspect of Coker’s plan is that their program can’t be isolated. To achieve this, they have built esports into their athletics program. There will be scholarships, a budget for travel expenses, and events designed to attract spectators and transform them into lifelong fans. Basically "...treating [esports] just like any other sport on campus," said esports director Joseph Rudy, who himself comes from a strong collegiate esports background at Penn State.
The important thing that schools must consider when developing initiatives like Coker’s is that simply having a few passionate players is not enough to justify the costs of a full-fledged program. Coker is taking important steps to find neighboring schools that they can regularly schedule events and matches with. Putting five students in a room to play League of Legends with another school all the way across the country is not the goal of the program. There will be team jerseys, a space dedicated for matches and practice, and the teams will stay mobile, traveling to events and LANs.
Student interest has yet to be fully gauged. Community support is definitely needed, so preliminary emails have been sent and Coker is expecting a warm reception once they begin to announce events and tryouts. A local newspaper has circulated an article covering the program and they will be pushing for more coverage as the program develops.
Another important step that Coker has taken in legitimizing their program is partnering with NACE. Started in 2016, the relatively new non-profit organization promises to bring structure to collegiate esports, and Coker hopes that structure aides their fledgling initiative. Of course, Rudy was pleased with the partnership, saying that collegiate esports needs that guided organization becaue the "scene is rapidly expanding."
Overall, Coker appears to be setting an example for other schools on how to take esports seriously. Foster a community, legitimize the programs, and provide needed support. The future where esports programs are the norm is quickly approaching.
You can read more about Coker College’s esports program in their official announcement. Stay tuned for more coverage as they enter the collegiate arena!