The Rise of Global Youth, High School, and College Esports

Tire text has extensively covered the professional esports scene; however, it is also necessary to explore the development and the expansion of competitive gaming at earlier ages. Particularly, this section examines the growth of youth-, high school-, as well as college-level competitive gaming.1278 Specifically, youth, high school, and college esports are on the rise in the United States.1279 In fact, in 2018, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which is the regulatory body for U.S. high school sports, reported that “72 percent of teens play video games regularly.”1280 There is also evidence of widespread usage of video and computer games by individuals of all age across all segments of the worlds population.1281 In addition, there are also “[n]early 200 colleges in the United States and Canada [that] are actively recruiting and offer scholarships for esports” in a variety of titles (and more being added every year).1282 These educational institutions are actually competing against other colleges and universities in select games for prizes and scholarship money.1283 There is also a growing esports scene among many U.S.-based junior colleges, including through the efforts of the esports association “NJCAA Esports.”1284

Hie global gaming scene has caused many elementary, middle, and high schools across the country to take notice of the growing competitive gaming scene existing and figuring out ways to incorporate it into their neighborhoods. For instance, the substantial growth in this sector has caused many states to start developing their own school-sponsored esports teams.1285 One of the central reasons cited by many educators when establishing these gaming programs is that “[e]sports offer a unique pathway to encourage interest in STEM fields such as programming, graphic design, networking, and video game design.”1286 In particular, some studies suggest that “gamer students are primed to pursue STEM in college and careers” as opposed to others who do not participate in esports.1287 This fact may be beneficial for a child’s educational and career development. 1288

This point has caused many high schools across the country to begin establishing their own esports leagues. “Specifically, as of July 2019, Virginia [and] eight other states [...] officially recognize[d] video gaming as a varsity high school sport.”1289 For example, “four New York City schools in Upper Manhattan” created a new esports league for “New York City middle school students.”1290 The New York State Department of Education has further supported these actions, including by highlighting the Rensselaer City School District.1291 This New York school district currently “include[s] competitive esports” in its extracurricular club offering to their “425 students [in] grades 7—12.”1292 Additionally, “Fair Haven New Jersey’s Knollwood Middle School became one of the first middle schools in the country to have video games” as an official school sport.1293 Some teachers in New Jersey have gone even further by establishing a “nonprofit organization” to help create “esports” and other “student educational experience[s.]”1294

In an effort to continue to grow the competitive youth gaming scene, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) partnered with tournament platform provider PlayVS in an effort “to introduce esports to high schools and state associations.”1295 The partnership began with “an initial rollout in at least 15 states” with plans to expand into other areas in the future.1296 This strategic partnership provides each participating school with access to PlayVS’ online platform to “build and manage teams, check schedules, and track stats.” 129 In addition to this partnership, other unaffiliated high school esports leagues have arisen. Two well-known ones are the High School Esports League (HSEL)1298 and the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF).1299 These independent associations provide platforms for high schools and other “community-based organizations” to compete against other schools and community groups on.1300 For instance, all “high schools and community-based organizations located in North America” are eligible to participate in the NASEF.1301 Furthermore, the primary school competitive landscape continues to evolve with the addition of new competitive gaming titles. For instance, as part of its high school esports program with the NFHS, PlayVS expanded “its tournament and league platforms with the addition of Epic Games’ Fortnite to its high school game lineup”1302 as well as with the addition of Riot Games’ League of Legends.1303 They also continue further expansion into other games, including establishing the competitive high school Overwatch scene.1304

In addition to independent organizations establishing and managing the growing youth and high school esports competitive scene, many states have begun launching their own individual programs aimed at this. Some of these states have even enacted their own policies toward which titles will be permissible for competitive gaming. For example, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association ruled that “the video game Fortnite" could not be played in any school’s “interscholastic e-sports competitions.”1305 Other states have also established their own associations governing the gaming space, including Virginia,1306 Indiana,1307 Colorado,1308 Wisconsin,1309 Connecticut, 1310 Ohio,1311 Illinois, 1312 North Dakota,1313 and Alaska,1314 to name a few. Furthermore, the California Interscholastic Federation (OF) has gone one step further by establishing its own separate partnership with PlayVS.1315 This alliance formed its own extensive “Esports Initiative.”1316 This collaboration is reportedly aimed at providing esports opportunities that comply with the “California Education Code” by “assisting] schools statewide by providing [them with] a platform for participation in competitions that include [set] rules, regulations, [and] participation standards.”1317 This new initiative continued to expand, including entering into an official partnership with gaming peripheral company HyperX.1318 This arrangement enabled HyperX to act as the “official headset, official keyboard, official mouse, and official mousepad of the CIF’s new esports program.”1319

In addition to the growth of high school and middle school esports, many universities and colleges across North America also took note.1320 In response to this new trend, many educational institutions began offering esports clubs as well as creating their own competitive teams that play against other colleges in organized tournaments and leagues.1321 These colleges have even begun recruiting former professional gamers to compete on behalf of them.1322 Some universities that gone through and have also begun including esports in the additional aspects of campus life including through undergraduate or graduate courses, minor degrees and esports certifications, including schools such as Oklahoma City University,1323 University of Arizona,1324 Illinois State University,1325 Northwood University,1326 Illinois Wesleyan University,1327 and Arizona State University,1328 as well as many other educational institutions.1329 Some universities have taken more elaborate steps, including creating their own dedicated esports and competitive gaming facilities on campus.1330 For instance, Harrisburg University invested “$750,000” to construct an “on-campus facility.”1331 Some universities have even begun offering academic scholarships to entice esports participants.1332 In addition, some established college conferences have even created their own competitive esports circuits for its participating universities. For instance, the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Esports was established for competitive gameplay between its conference members and is intended to mirror the traditional college sports conferences such as the “BIG 12 Conference.” 1333

In response to the collegiate gaming competitive scene’s growth, the National Association of Collegiate Esportr (NACE) was formed.1334 NACE was created to help the “development of esports programs at the collegiate level.”1335 The association currently has over “170 member schools” with over “5000 student-athletes” competing across the United States.1336 These student-athletes game against other colleges in a variety of titles including Overwatch, Rocket League, Smite, Fortnite, and League of Legends.™7 In addition to the NACE, another similar organization that was created is TESPA.1338 TESPA currently has over “270 chapters across North America” competing in various games including Overwatch, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and StarCraft II.1339

Another large collegiate competitive league is the Collegiate Star League (CSL).™° The CSL has “over 70,000 competing students across 1,800 universities in North America” in a variety of titles including “League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, [and] Smash Bros! 1341 In fact, some of CSL’s collegiate esports events are presented during DreamHack’s events and tournament.1342 In fact, this league is “the world’s largest collegiate gaming league” and; since its inception in 2009, it has awarded “over $600,000 in scholarship money” to competitors.1343

While new gaming titles are consistently being added to the competitive college circuit, Riot Games’ League of Legends has distinguished itself within the college scene.1344 In particular, the “College League of Legends" competitions have over “350 teams competing” in them.1345 This organized league is a “student-led network of League of Legends players on college campuses across the U.S. and Canada” and enables different colleges to compete against each other in various League of Legends tournaments.1346 The league even offers scholarships to winning teams.1347 With the increasing viewership and interest, some of these collegiate competitions are even televised, such as ESPN’s College Esports Championship (CEC).1348

In addition to the competitive scene, some colleges across the country have established specific courses in the field, while others have created entire esports degree programs.1349 In fact, the non-professional gaming scene has become so large that one of the largest gaming streaming platforms, Twitch created its own “Twitch for School” project.1350 The program provides a participating university student with a “university team page and accompanying [Twitch] channel” as well as with the opportunity for a “fully partnered channel” so that the university earns “revenue” while utilizing it.1351 Additionally, as part of the program, any participating school would also receive continued support from Twitch.1352 This might include receiving “swag” as well as potentially “front page [placement...] to promote” the university’s channel.1353 The “Twitch Student” concept was initially formed by the company in an effort to “empower and give [a] voice to students within the [gaming] industry.”1354 The program was “designed [by Twitch] to create an apparatus for universities, students and teams to facilitate growth in the [esports] realm.”1355 In fact, as a result of this concept, more universities began incorporating esports into their collegiate athletic programs.1356

The competitive collegiate scene has not only grown in North America but it has also expanded into many other countries across the globe. This includes the development of university-focused gaming competitions in many nations including Brazil,1357 France,1358 Spain,1359 the United Kingdom,1360 Ireland,1361 and Germany.1362 For example, the University eSport Germany is a “student-initiated startup that organizes eSports competitions for students, primarily from German universities” against other German university students.1363 Furthermore, Amazon announced the “Amazon University Esports”1364 partnership that pits universities in the “United Kingdom, Spain and Italy” against each other in a variety of gaming titles, including in League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, and Clash RoyaleT^ Similar to the United States, some other countries have established organizations to govern collegiate esports within their territory.1366 This includes the National Student Esports (NSE), who even secured a lucrative partnership with Barclays Bank.1367 They have also secured a license to operate competitive tournaments, including with Nintendo for its Super Smash Bros. Ultimate title.1368

Overall, as more and more individuals continue to play video and computer games, the non-professional competitive gaming scene seems primed to continue to grow. Specifically, it is clear that collegiate esports has thepotential to become a global force and it might even enable university students from different countries to compete against each other. In fact, as more children grow up with competitive gaming and esports as part of their everyday lives, the more likely it is that these lower-level gaming experiences will continue to expand and rise in importance and scope.

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