The video game competition known as Esports is projected to accumulate nearly a billion dollars in revenue in 2018 according to Newzoo, and many college athletic programs across the country are tapping into this lucrative industry, including a couple here in North Dakota.
According to NACE, The National Association of Collegiate Esports, more than 100 colleges have Esports varsity programs, and 90 percent of them are sanctioned by NACE, a division of the NAIA.
In 2016 the University of Jamestown, a small private school of a little more than 1000 students in North Dakota launched the program and saw the video game sport as a great way to recruit new students.
“The grand goal of adding 30 students to our university that we might not normally be recruiting, ” said Josh Knutson, Esports head coach for the University of Jamestown.
The university was the first college in the state of North Dakota to implement the program, and they also saw it as a benefit to students.
“We also looked at as an opportunity to help our student athletes pay for college, ” said Knutson.
According to NACE there are more than 1,500 student athletes participating in Esports programs at NACE member schools, and about $9 million dollars in student aid and scholarships have been awarded to students by these schools.
Vetle Peterson, an Esports athlete at the University of Jamestown who was recruited for the game Overwatch, said his partial scholarship was a surprise to his parents.
“They thought it was a little weird that I was going to college to play video games for a scholarship”.
The team, known as the Jimmies, currently has 21 players who compete in online game competitions against other schools for the opportunity to win prizes like scholarship money.
The team recently went 5 and 2 during the Fall season and lost early in the playoffs for the online card game Hearthstone.
The Hearthstone Collegiate Championship for the 2018 Fall semester awarded $48,000 in scholarship money, including $3,500 in scholarships (per player) for the team that finished first in the tournament.
The Jimmies compete in other competitions for games like Overwatch and League of Legends, and coach Knutson said like any sport they have a regular season, playoff, and weekly practices focused on strategy and planning.
“They are athletes. You need a certain amount of skill to do this at the collegiate level, and not everybody is cut out for it”.
Knutson said he hopes to see the team grow in years to come to about 30 players.
Recently Dickinson State University announced they are interested in becoming the second school in the state to have an Esports program, hoping the sport can add a boost to their enrollment numbers.
DSU currently has less than 1,500 students enrolled.
The school is currently in the in the early stages of implementing a recreational league which they hope to launch this Spring
Mary Parsons, Vice President Finance & Administration at Dickinson State University, said they want to eventually develop it into varsity Esports program like the one the University of Jamestown has.