Associations Build Around Growing Demand for College Esports Leagues

With the NCAA taking more of a wait-and-see approach, a handful of regional and national groups have built support for organized esports at college campuses around the country. One group has even moved into working with high schools.

With the National Collegiate Athletic Association choosing not to focus on esports, a form of competitive video gaming that has become popular in recent years, a variety of upstart groups have seen an opportunity to play the role of organizer.

These groups, including the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF) and the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), are making some serious inroads into a form of play that could prove a popular competitor to traditional athletic sports, The New York Times reported last week. Rather than basketball or football, the names of the games that these groups are aiming for include multiplayer team-based games like League of Legends and Overwatch.

These groups have taken different routes to formation. EGF has largely focused on building a network of clubs at universities nationwide (currently around 70), with the goal of gaining varsity support from their respective schools. NACE, on the other hand, started out by launching with varsity status at colleges and universities—first with six schools, and now it counts 42 members.

“We’re talking to at least three or four new schools every single day. We did not expect this type of reaction,” NACE Executive Director Michael Brooks told The Associated Press last month.

Additionally, EGF recently launched a program with the Connecticut Association of Schools targeted at the state’s high school students.

“Our goal is to see teams created at every school across the state,” EGF CEO Tyler Schrodt told WTNH-TV last month. “They’ll compete in weekly online and traditional matches, just like they would in traditional sports.”

Other groups like Collegiate Starleague and the Texas Esports Association (TESPA), meanwhile, remain common around the country.

The dream of these groups, of course, is to have tournaments along the lines of those that the NCAA is famous for, but focused on video games. But they also serve functional purposes—helping to handle factors such as licensing, liability, recruitment, and sponsorship.

While the NCAA isn’t exactly ignoring esports, telling the Times that it is discussing the matter, observers wonder if the group—if it even decides that esports fit under its organizational umbrella—may be moving too slowly on the issue to make an impact.

“I generally believe they’ll get beaten to the punch,” Kevin Knocke, of the esports infrastructure company ReKT Global, told the newspaper. “I think there’s a real possibility of the NCAA missing the boat here.”

If the NCAA does, it’ll likely be because of all the competition.

(gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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