Across the country, colleges and universities are turning to eSports as a new addition to their athletic programs. Earlier this year, the University of Utah became the first school from a major athletic conference to offer varsity eSports. With an increasing number of institutions offering scholarships to the top high school video gamers, a single administrative body will likely emerge to regulate recruiting, monitor the amateur status of participants, and govern other issues related to the bourgeoning collegiate sport.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—the traditional governing body of collegiate athletics—currently has no authority over the growing number of eSports programs, but it has been exploring how to handle eSports with its board of governors scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting this month. Meanwhile, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (or NACE) currently has 45 member-institutions and counting. Founded in July of 2016, NACE is a nonprofit membership association organized by and on behalf of the member institutions. As of January 2017, the member-institutions of NACE represented over 90% of the varsity collegiate eSports programs in the U.S.
With some schools, such as Robert Morris University in Chicago, offering every member of the school’s team scholarships worth up to 70% of their tuition, recruiting regulation will almost certainly be a major challenge facing the sport going forward. The NCAA itself has been marred by an ongoing scandal involving recruiting in college basketball. NACE officials have indicated that they would be willing to work with the NCAA, albeit with some concern. “The fear is they would push e-sports into the model of other collegiate athletics,” stated Michael Brooks, the director of NACE. “If true, that has the potential to do a lot of damage.”
The eSports industry has also seen plenty of growth this year outside collegiate sports, with individuals from traditional professional sports leagues moving quickly to enter the space and the IOC considering eSports as a potential new Olympic event. Since the first seven teams of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League were announced in July, an additional 5 teams have joined, with each new owner agreeing to pay the $20 million buy-in fee. The owners of the twelve teams include big names from the world of traditional professional sports, such as Robert Kraft—owner of the New England Patriots—and Jeff Wilpon—COO of the New York Mets. Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is considering adding eSports as a medal event at the 2024 Olympic Games.