When Videogames Go to School

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It wasn’t that long ago that everybody from parents to clergymen to U.S. senators were all aflutter about the kid-destroying characteristics of videogames. These days, however, its not so much parents screaming at the kids to turn off the videogames as it is parents urging them to sharpen their button-mashing skills. You know, so they can get into college. C’mon, Junior, you get in there and play another hour! Do it for good old dad.

And I’m only slightly exaggerating.

Just in case you haven’t heard, there are high schools putting a lot of effort into creating videogame teams and tournaments, in the fashion of their other school sports teams. And colleges are now giving students money to come to their school and play videogames on a collegiate level. In fact, in the 2018-19 school year, some 200 U.S. colleges offered a whopping $16 million in esports scholarships.

Esports? Ok, let’s start there. Esports is any sort of competitive gathering where “professional gamers” (read: kids who have honed their hand-eye coordination and run-and-gun skills to a razor-sharp edge) square off in teams or individually. And typically, there are cash prizes. I’m not talking a gift certificate for case of Mountain Dew, either. Just recently, for instance, a teen named Kyle Giersdorf took the top prize in a nationally promoted Fortnite tournament to the tune of a cool $3 mil. (Talk about a wasted youth … and a lot of Dew.)

Why give all that money to people just for playing video games? Because other people are watching them play those games, of course. More observing eyeballs equals a bigger chance for an incoming stream of cash, and an incoming cash stream means … Thar’s gold in them thar pixels. So, in turn, prep schools, wanting to prep their young charges for tomorrow’s brave, new world, are giving students the chance to earn a letter for their Fortnite prowess.

That’s great news for the old AV-and-chess-club set, right? Well, maybe. There are some concerns on the horizon. The growing demand on all levels is resulting in state athletics associations—the organizations that oversee school sports—having to scramble to keep up. Who’s going to make the rules? What constitutes an “athlete” now?

In the meantime, sponsors and esport companies are already jumping in to play the long game. They’re reportedly helping high schools not only set up computer labs and tournaments but connecting kids with college recruiters. Why? Because, just like any other sporting franchise, the goal isn’t simply about maintaining an influx of capable young players. They’re also thinking about the possibility of nurturing managers, marketers, game designers and every other component of their business. That’s how the professional sports teams do it, and it’s how you prompt your enterprise to grow.

Oh, and just so you know, esports is projected to be a $1.5 billion industry in 2020. So, you can bet there’s a lot of people interested in … growth.

There are more concerns swirling about this topic, probably too much to detail in one wee little blog post. But one thing’s for sure: When we talk about the rise of high school and college esports, you can wager there’s more going on behind the curtain. And while a college scholarship sure might be good for junior, it might come with strings attached—not just for junior, but for society, too.

Maybe all those parents and clergymen have reason to worry … just a totally different reason.