Are we there yet? Gaming has been growing for decades, and esports has recently helped push it further into the mainstream. With six-figure tournament prizes popping up on a regular basis, are esports teams finally being taken seriously on college campuses?
We caught up with the best four college teams that competed in Heroes of the Dorm, an epic Heroes of the Storm tournament that had its finals last weekend to talk about how esports are being treated on college campuses across the United States.
Everyone's Doing It...
It shouldn't surprise you to learn that videogames are popular on college campuses -- they host some of the biggest PC networks around, with high-speed internet begging for some sweet gaming action.
Stefen "Akaface" Anderson, who plays support for Dream Team at Arizona State says that competitive gaming is starting to rise in popularity on his campus, partially through the exposure of tournaments like Heroes of the Dorm.
"A ton of people are coming up to me saying how cool it is that we were on ESPN," Akaface says after Heroes of the Dorm's quarter-finals were hosted on ESPN3. "They're all really excited for me and have a million questions about the game. The support has really been overwhelming."
His teammate, assassin player Nick "SteelReign" Shively adds that he expects more and more students to start paying for college through esports.
"I don't think it's weird at all [to pay your college tuition through winning tournaments like Heroes of the Dorm]," SteelReign says. "Competitive gaming is the same as any other sport. If there's a calling for it then there should be a reward at every level."
This isn't an isolated instance. Across the country at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, the support player on Mad Banners, Thomas “Zodijackyl” Hahn, says he's had tons of support on campus. Friends, other gaming teams on campus, and even other non-gaming students are all rallying behind him.
"Every student I told is watching and keeping track of the tournament," Zodijackyl says. "It's really awesome! All of them are really invested in this tournament. Non-gaming students don't quite understand the depth of Heroes of the Storm, but I don't understand the depth of football, for example. So it's not like esports are unusual in that."
Making it Official
We're not quite in Korea, though, where gaming heroes are instant celebrities. While all of the teams we talked with are seeing swells of support from the student body, they're still getting mixed reactions from the faculty and school itself.
The esports stars at University of California, Berkeley are living every little gamer's dream.
"One of my Economics professors heard about the competition from his son," explains Richard "PandaJigu" Xue, who plays assassins for Golden Bears there. "He offered to reschedule the due date of our term paper, so I could play in the live championship event in Los Angeles this weekend!"
But not every esports-star-in-the-training is so lucky. The Boston Eagles are flying solo at Boston College -- although some of the fault for that might be on them.
"We forgot to tell people or the school [that we were competing in Heroes of the Dorm], so they probably don’t even know," Andrew "Fabs" Fabiano admits. "I told my favorite professors and mentors and they seemed really happy for me. I’m thrilled to have their support."
His teammate Aristidis "Maet" Vasilopoulos chimes in: "Gaming is kind of a cult practice at Boston College. It was by mere chance that we ended up having so many talented players on campus."
But, overall, the situations sound mostly positive at college campuses, including a big family win for Parham "Pham" Emami, an assassin player on Dream Team at Arizona State.
"My parents never supported me in regards to esports before," Pham says. "But now that I'm participating in something relatively big, they've started to watch my games and talk to me about it. It has made me happy."
For More Than Money
Family reconciliations are an awesome perk of pursuing esports in college, but money is pretty nice too. And there's a surprising amount of that to make, even now. Teams in Heroes of the Dorm are competing for the ability to never worry about their college tuition again. The top team will have their college tuition paid for by Blizzard -- an awesome incentive, whether these students plan to pursue esports full-time or not.
"I'll be able to go into my PhD program debt-free," Aristidis "Maet" Vasilopoulos of the Golden Bears explains. "It'll allow me to live a much freer lifestyle, where I can put more of my paycheck into day-to-day activities, rather than always worrying about my debts."
The players we talked with were happy that they chose to pursue esports in college, whether they win the tournament this weekend or not.
"Our entire esports club and on-campus gaming enthusiasts have shown support for our team and want us to succeed," Zachary "Zero" Mirman, the Golden Bears' tank explains. "Berkeley has a very competitive sports culture, so even if they don't fully understand the game, other students want to support our Heroes of the Storm team as much as possible. I've made great friends in my team and in the community through it. Winning would just be the icing on the cake."
Do Your Part
We're not too far off from the dream, my friends. Some colleges are already recruiting and giving scholarships to esports teams, and it sounds like Heroes of the Dorm has been a great boost to esports exposure and support at colleges across the whole country.
If college esports sounds like your kind of thing, you can watch the replay and highlights of last weekend's matches and more videos on the Heroes of the Dorm website.