According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), Rocket League was the most popular team esports (opens in new tab) game during the 2021-2022 school year. You may think playing soccer with rocket-powered cars is a ridiculous notion, but thousands of student-athletes—many of whom have received scholarships and financial aid specifically to play soccer with rocket-powered cars—would disagree.
Ashley “AJ” Jones (opens in new tab), director of membership sales and services for NACE, served as our keynote speaker at the AV/IT Summit in early August. Established in 2016, NACE is a nonprofit association that works with more than 200 member schools (including almost two dozen other Division 1 schools) to advance varsity esports programs. Jones argued a very compelling case for esports. They certainly have the numbers: With more than 13,300 NCAA Starleague esports student-athletes across the country, there are more college esports athletes than hockey athletes.
I understand the appeal of esports. I got hooked on Wolfenstein 3D and never looked back. Doom, Duke Nukem, Halo—between these and other first-person shooters, I’ve spent way too many hours staring down the barrels of make-believe pistols, shotguns, and RPG launchers. Apparently, though, I did not spend enough hours shooting simulated demons, Nazis, and aliens to make it a career.
Unlike the solo campaigns of my leisurely assaults on digital bad guys, teamwork makes the academic dream work. Last season, teams from almost 700 schools (including more than 400 varsity programs) competed in the NACE Starleague for scholarship funds.
The league sanctioned more than 13,000 matches across a dozen different games, which attracted more than 767,000 unique viewers. That means hundreds of thousands of people went online to watch other people play videogames.
Some of the esports facilities (opens in new tab) Jones showed us were visually stunning and filled to the rim with tech. Remember, these are just the collegiate programs. There are professional esports teams around the world, as well as purpose-built esports facilities like the Tech Port Center + Arena (opens in new tab).
[Higher Ed Esports Programs Need Support from AV/IT Experts] (opens in new tab)
Have you gathered your team to discuss your esports strategy? The stats don’t lie: Esports is serious business at the collegiate level and beyond—and it’s just going to keep getting bigger. That means plenty of opportunities for systems integrators and manufacturers to get in the game.