Across the country, sports have embedded themselves as a primary part of college campuses, with students participating both as players and fans. In recent years, eSports, or competitive video gaming has risen in popularity. To date, 12 college varsity eSports teams are officially operated by universities, with some players receiving athletic scholarships.
Teams primarily compete on popular PC games such as DOTA 2 and League of Legends (LoL). Countless more teams are operated as student clubs. St. Cloud State also has a student-run eSports organization lead by its President, Justin Schmidt, after being founded almost five years ago by Kevin Angell. Schmidt is a double major in Biomedical Science and Communications Studies with a plan to become a chiropractor. Much of the clubs success Schmidt attributes to the help of his fellow members and officers.
Initially, the club centered exclusively around LoL, but quickly expanded into other games as well. Today the club has a Discord server for players to discuss and form groups on other games, even those they do not regularly play at their weekly meetings.
Due to the nature of gaming, it is not always feasible to bring “home consoles” (such as Playstation 4’s or Xbox One’s) to their weekly meetings due to their size and requirement of an external screen. Rather, Schmidt said many players choose to bring their laptop computers and for some even their desktop PCs.
Schmidt admits video games are stereotypically considered to be anything but social but believes the club proves otherwise. “Taking something that’s not [usually] a social aspect and turning it into a social thing,” he said.
On campus, video games provide a way to bring people together to meet new friends. Schmidt came to SCSU as a freshman not knowing anyone. At his orientation, he met another student who shared his interest in LoL and recommended he check out the eSports club. From there Schmidt met many other students who shared a similar interest and made him feel better connected on campus.
The club also has a more competitive side, with players competing in tournaments like the one put on April 15. Schmidt said playing a video game at a competitive level takes just as much dedication as a mainstream sport.
“[eSports players] aren’t athletes in the sense that they’re hitting a ball, but they have a strict diet, rigorous practice schedule, nutritionists, and trainers,” he said.
While SCSU does not currently qualify the eSports teams as one of their official sports teams, Schmidt is hopeful one day the club’s competitive side could achieve this status.
Technology is always undergoing changes and Schmidt believes eSports will as well. “As technology advances, they’re going to be coming into what I believe will be ‘In Real Life’ video games.”
He envisions a future where players go to physical places and hold physical objects while competing in virtual games. As time goes on, he also expects all of the games currently popular, to begin to die off in popularity.
Schmidt feels the most important aspect of creating a successful competitive game is one that is “accessible and free,” a criteria LoL is geared to fit.
As the eSports scene continues to evolve, both on and off campus, Schmidt sees nothing but potential to keep growing. “There will always be gamers that come in, and gamers that leave and there will always be people [who] want to make friends who have the same interests.”
SCSU eSports club meets in Brown Auditorium for their weekly gaming sessions on Wednesday’s from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.