Colleges and universities struggle with how to differentiate themselves in a competitive market so they can better recruit and retain students. Software and technology (S&T) companies – like companies in many other industries – are struggling to find and retain the right talent. These two sectors may find a solution to their problems in the common ground of esports.
Esports – competitive video gaming – is on track to surpass $1.5 billion in revenue by 2023, with year-over year growth of 15.7%. More than 175 colleges and universities have started an officially recognized varsity esports program, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). As part of their recruitment efforts, institutions are looking to capitalize on the continuing popularity of gaming in students from kindergarten through high school. They are discovering that students enjoy not only the competitive aspect of esports, but also the community of gamers and supporters they are finding on campus.
Scott Huston, chief information officer at Stockton University in Absecon, New Jersey, noted that one of the most important parts of putting together an esports program is the initial budget. He said the institution should budget in a way that funds a healthy balance between the technology that supports the games and the community that supports the players and the school.
He added that Stockton’s esports program is drawing students from many academic specialties – computer science, history, chemistry, education and English, to name a few. He also noted that the skills students learn being involved in esports are easily transferable to the workforce. “Teamwork and communication, but also dealing with high stress and working through that,” Huston said.
Institutions are adding or expanding an esports program as a retention and recruitment strategy for existing students. There's tremendous interest in esports and the earning power of new media stars like Ninja, a Twitch streamer, YouTuber and professional gamer.
S&T companies can benefit from the increasing popularity of esports by sponsoring college esports programs (which expands name recognition and use of company products) and nurturing the next generation of employees (which will help fill their ongoing talent needs).
S&T firms play a critical role helping colleges and universities start and grow an esports program. While most institutions with an esports program include it as part of their athletic or student life departments, most esports leaders would agree that the programs need the active support and guidance of the school’s IT departments. Institutions developing an effective esports program may struggle with making the right decisions regarding infrastructure, cybersecurity, software and hardware. They may not understand all the hidden challenges behind the technology that supports esports – bandwidth and speed needs, latency, PC-based versus console-based games – may affect the success of their esports program.
Some institutions struggle with their recruiting efforts in more challenging demographic areas where family household incomes limit potential students to console-based games as opposed to more costly PC games that need strong broadband to be played effectively.
S&T companies can help colleges and universities develop an esports program by giving them access to platforms and devices that students want access to, and that institutions or students might not otherwise have the budget for. Tech companies can help with hardware and software and promoting expansion of broadband locally. They may donate PCs, gaming chairs, blue light glasses, headsets, the mouse, benefiting from seeing their names prominently displayed as sponsors. They can provide guidance on proper internet protocols, cybersecurity, and software and hardware updates. Providing a better esports environment for students where they can participate both in and out of the gaming arena can open up better employment opportunities for them.
Institutions also may need help in identifying and developing the robust types of auxiliary roles and skills sets necessary to support their esports programs. Esports is more than just the players – a successful program will include support from professionals and students involved in IT, campus media (including social media), video and broadcasting production, and graphics, to name a few skill sets. A successful esports program may lead the institution to add game design or similar programs to the curriculum, which will increase the opportunities for students post-graduation.
S&T companies know that the ecosystem of games has to be refreshed constantly with new ideas. Gaming companies are in a constant developmental cycle, with a tremendous need for talent, whether in game development, ancillary services, or streaming and webcast studios. Colleges and universities can use their esports programs as incubators for career development. The esports athletes of today can be the game developers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Some S&T companies already have specialized collegiate units to address questions and comments from college program administrators as well as students.
The S&T ecosystem that supports esports includes various types of emerging stage companies – gaming companies, professional player leagues, hardware companies, streaming services. In addition to the traditional professional services they need, like SEC guidance, enterprise risk management and cybersecurity, these companies may need help in identifying the many ways they can help colleges with their esports programs.
Knowing that the popularity of esports continues to grow, and that colleges and universities are increasingly using esports as part of their recruitment and retention strategy, including as part building a healthy academic community, tech companies can become valuable partners in the success of these institutional programs. They can provide sponsorships, equipment and guidance, but they can also demonstrate to students a path to success outside of school and the game room.
For more information on how esports can assist the technology industry with talent issues, connect with us.