It is estimated there were nearly half a billion viewers following on live-streaming platforms in 2020—up 11.7 percent from the previous year. While the pandemic might have piqued the overall awareness, interest in Esports has been on the rise for several years.
Pioneering Esports on a collegiate level is the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE)—the largest member association of varsity Esports programs at colleges and universities in the U.S. The organization comprises more than 5,000 student-athletes across 180 schools—69 of which have NCAA varsity Esports teams. Since its inception in 2016, the organization has given out $16 million in scholarships to existing and prospective young Esports athletes.
Higher education institutions have been building the necessary infrastructure for competition—from small-scale intramural club play to national Esports tournaments involving hundreds of individual teams and large, in-person audiences.
Creating the Ideal Esports Environment
"What do I need to make this happen?"
"How do I even start to build out an Esports facility?"
These are questions Jared Darensbourg, Panasonic’s senior sales manager, often hears when working with schools to outfit their campuses with contest-ready Esports infrastructure. He explained in its most basic form that Esports requires a gaming console setup, specialized seating, a large-format display, and a microphone so everyone in the room can experience the competition in real time.
But for schools that also have a sizable remote audience, the ability to livestream is crucial for success. Having multiple professional pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras allows the user to capture content from the first-person gamer perspective, as well as from an audience perspective. “The audience member should be able to see everything that's going on throughout that event stream, from every angle,” Darensbourg said.
“Remote production completes the ecosystem—pushing out to Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, or wherever this is being captured,” Darensbourg said. “For a large-scale operation, we would use our new KAIROS switcher/mainframe/server, which is a new cutting-edge IT/IP platform that supports independent output channels [e.g., 20 3G outputs].”
Broadcasting to a loyal fan base is just one of many areas where the distinction between traditional college sports and Esports teams becomes blurred. “In traditional college sports, somebody is handling broadcast cameras for game day—the networking and switching,” Darensbourg explained. “These folks are now getting requested for Esports because for the full solution experience, you not only have the AV, but the back-end broadcast, as well as remote production. Getting out to the masses ultimately brings visibility to the college.”
Once the physical infrastructure is in place, extremely high bandwidth and network capability are required to stream on Twitch to account for the hundreds—or potentially hundreds of thousands—of people tuning in simultaneously. Broadcast resolution on Twitch is possible at 1080p, though streaming is more reliable at 720p.
Leveling Up the Display Experience
Whereas basketball arenas and football stadiums will likely opt for an LED display to communicate with attendees, for Esports venues, projection can be an equally immersive, yet cost-effective alternative—particularly for cash-strapped colleges and universities.
“Projection technology plays a crucial role in collegiate Esports,” Darensbourg said. “You can achieve extremely vibrant resolution and clarity. You can also get a much wider image size with just one projector, and the total cost of ownership over time is going to be significantly less. Nine times out of 10, higher education will go with projection over LED.”
In addition to budget considerations, projection offers the advantage of versatility for smaller, multipurpose gaming spaces such as classrooms and computer labs.
Bringing the Live Audience Back
While the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined many in-person college sporting events, the downtime and empty rooms provided a unique opportunity for some colleges and universities to begin the design and building process for Esports facilities.
Darensbourg projects build-out will only increase as pandemic restrictions are lifted. “People want to get back into in-person tournaments, so we’re going to see a lot more new venues pop up—especially as more schools are figuring out how to integrate Esports technology and recruit students to participate,” he said.
Inspiring the Next Generation of Esports Stars
The skills students gain through participation in Esports, including mental fitness, reaction time, fine-motor skills, problem-solving, and teamwork, serve them in their academic pursuits and, ultimately, in their careers. In fact, a 2018 study of League of Legends gamers showed that 62 percent of their gaming community pursued a STEM undergraduate degree.
Through partnerships with secondary schools and community-based organizations, Panasonic demonstrates its commitment to STEM education by exposing students to Esports—with the ultimate goal of helping every student discover their passion and a pathway to higher education.