LEAD1 Byte of the Week: The Rise of Esports

Esports is a fascinating, rapidly-evolving area of activity. For all its growth, questions remain about esports and its affiliation with college athletics.

I attended a Goldman Sachs esports panel recently and was blown away. Esports is a billion-dollar industry and the most watched sport worldwide. Because of its growing significance, major investment bankers are tracking it.

For those who question whether esports are truly a sport, remember that some people may say the same thing about NASCAR and Formula 1 racing. Esports are a different type of sport, certainly, but they still include elements required for traditional sports— intense training and focus, as well as extraordinary muscle memory that can involve 5-10 actions per second.

Many professional sports teams back esports organizations. In fact, Major League Baseball is the only major professional sports league in the United States that has yet to venture into esports.

Half of our LEAD1 schools are considering the creation of a varsity esports program in the next five years. Western Michigan recently opened a video game arena on its campus.

For college sports, there are many questions that need to be answered. Where should esports be located on campus? Should they be part of the athletics department? Compensation, eligibility, and Title IX issues will need to be addressed.

Only 33 percent of our ADs think esports programs should be housed in athletics. Most of our ADs — 43 percent — view student-affairs as the best place for esports.

In my view, esports should be embraced by college athletics as they have been by the pros. After all, those involved in esports are the same students we are trying to attract — Gen Z, ages 17-21 — to our stadiums and arenas on campus. Some estimates predict 276 million viewers of esports by 2020—and that is a lot of eyeballs.