The world of video games has exploded past the days of staying up until 4 a.m. playing Call of Duty missions, or bringing the Celtics to the Finals in NBA 2K only to realize you have school in four hours.
Today, video games, or esports, are a billion-dollar industry with, according to the National Association for College Esports (NACE), a 40 percent growth in the past year. Competitively, these games take intense concentration, hand-eye coordination and much more talent than moving the shooting sliders up so your Celtics team will finally win a game before you rage-quit and go to bed.
Esports is competitive video game playing, usually in teams of five with a head coach. Games include Overwatch, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Counter-Strike Global Offensive and more.
As Central Maine Community College director of admissions and women’s basketball head coach Andrew Morong started to learn more about esports, he wondered why his school had not already jumped at the opportunity.
“Like a lot of things, I think you just keep an eye on active trends out there in higher education, and this is certainly one of them,” Morong said. “It’s impacting higher education across the country, and we sort of looked at ourselves and said, ‘Wait, why aren’t we offering this? We could be the only community college north of Virginia offering this and one of the few schools in New England to offer it and we have the facilities.’”
CMCC decided it wanted to get into the esports game. Waterville’s Thomas College announced earlier this month that it also will be starting an esports program.
CMCC is excited about the possibilities.
“We think it’s going to attract sometimes a different kind of kid than we normally get,” Morong said. “… We have 250 students that live on campus, so we are always looking for ways to serve them more. It’ll also allow us to host our own tournaments on campus for our students here. Knowing that so few schools have this in our area, we could really mark ourselves as unique.”
CMCC has already started recruiting for the 2019 fall semester. Morong said he has received a dozen emails from current students who are interested, as well as one or two dozen applications from potential players that have heard CMCC will be competing next year.
Competing through NACE will let CMCC play in tournaments all across the country against some of the biggest four-year colleges in the nation. And it would be all from the facility the school is currently building down the hall from the basketball court.
“We would be playing against even Big 10 schools,” Morong said. “There are also going to be additional tournaments with academic scholarship money available for the winners. There is still a lot to be learned, but the potential is endless. Ninety percent of the schools in the NACE are four-year schools. We like the challenge of playing up with the four-year schools.”
With sports games such as Madden and NBA 2K being in the mix, as well as the hugely popular Fortnite become available, according to NACE and Epic Games, in late-2019 or early 2020, Morong is excited about the endless opportunities. He’s already searching for some coaches, similar to how the athletic department already handles business.
“We are looking through job postings right now,” Morong said. “We are treating this like our athletic program. Our teams are going to have practices and matches and their own schedule, uniform and academic standards. It is going to basically mirror our athletic programs. I think coaches are going to be on a stipend position and coach maybe one or two sports, but really, beyond that, they probably won’t have time to pull that off.”
And just like some sporting events held at CMCC, esports matches will be streamed on the school’s new Twitch account. A couple students have already come forward willing to commentate matches.
Morong remembers a time of playing video games at college on secure LAN services at his college. The top-of-the-line computers, five 60-inch television screens and hardware being built in the facilities of CMCC are a far-cry from those times.
“I look back and say, ‘If this was around back then, how popular would it have been back then with Halo out and the original Counter-Strike?’” Morong said. “For me, it’s been a really neat opportunity to go through the process of setting this all up ,and it’s been really rewarding for me because I want this to be as successful as possible.”
For CMCC, this is an opportunity to reach out to a new clientele and new type of student. According Business Insider, a recent tournament of the game DOTA 2 had a prize pool of 20 million dollars. The esports market is exploding, and Morong wants to be a part of it.
“It’s going to reach all different kinds of students,” Morong said. “I think people in their minds view video gamers as a certain crowd, but they don’t realize that it’s everybody now. There are so many people playing games in their 40s and 50s, and 10-year-olds. These are formalized competitions. I think this is really going to change some of our on-campus culture here, and I think it’s going to change our resident life culture here.”