Playing video games has long been a hobby for many college students. Through the decades, these games have evolved, with some colleges now offering esports programs and scholarships.
Three years ago, Ball State students created Cardinal eSports — a club made up of a group of students who enjoy playing video games competitively. However, they now aspire to be recognized as a varsity sport.
Renee Clear, assistant professor of journalism graphics and faculty advisor for Cardinal eSports, said within the next two years, esports “will be big.”
Clear said some schools have the administration of esports under the library services instead of athletics, which she said does not align with the club’s goals to become a varsity sport.
In recent months, Cardinal eSports has competed with other schools on the junior varsity level because they are not recognized as a varsity sport. Clear said she hopes the club will be recognized and have scholarships in the future.
“In the next five years, if you are not there, you’re [going to] get left out in the cold,” she said.
Becoming a recognized team would come with requirements because varsity sports teams have to abide by NCAA regulations. Esports players cannot be paid and would have to maintain a certain GPA, among other rules.
Corbin Creedon, Cardinal eSports president and computer science major, said in an email many students across the U.S. are interested in esports games like Fortnite and League of Legends. Creedon added that Ball State having esports scholarships would help attract prospective students.
“Cardinal eSports is currently doing research into other schools that have facilities and are looking into getting those established,” he said.
Some schools in Indiana — Indiana Tech, Butler University and Trine University — have recognized esports programs.
“Ball State could see a lot of benefits from having esports scholarship because they would be a part of the first generation,” said Julian Thomas in an email, Cardinal eSports executive and Rocket League coordinator.
Thomas said having scholarships would allow Ball State to develop Cardinal eSports quicker and build a solid ground for the future of esports, including scholarships at Ball State that would show prospective students that the university is serious about esports.
“Esports is my passion, and as a student it would help me a ton if it came sooner rather than later,” he said.
Scott Wise, Ball State alumnus and founder of Scotty’s Brewhouse, which closed its original Muncie location recently after the company filed for bankruptcy, according to previous Daily News reports, wants to be a part of bringing esports scholarships to Ball State.
He has co-founded his own esports league, Evolve Esports, which he said is like little league because it teaches kids and helps them learn skills like the ability to take coaching.
Tipton High School in Tipton, Indiana, for example, has a dedicated esports arena, according to the school’s news release. Student esports players could later join a collegiate program with a possible scholarship.
While he is willing to help schools develop their esports programs, Wise said he doesn’t want to wait because the esports industry is growing fast.
“For me, it was frustrating to meet the schools because they just move at a snail's pace,” Wise said.
He said he has spoken with President Geoffrey Mearns and discussed what he has done to start his youth esports league and how Ball State can be a place where esports can grow.
Seeing the esports arenas being built all across the United States, Wise said Muncie would be a “perfect” place to grow esports and someday build a facility for the program.
“What I’ve seen with most sports is they start club level and if they’re popular and there’s money to be made then they sanction them into an actual sport,” he said.
If the university makes Cardinal eSports a varsity team, it will need to be supported like one, Thomas said. It would need quality machines and a facility to practice in so a player would not be held back due to equipment.
“With how large esports already is and how fast it's growing it would honestly be a massive mistake not to hop on this opportunity,” Thomas said.
Contact Jacob Musselman with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jhmusselman.