The Opportunity and Benefit of Collegiate Esports

October 17, 2017 / by Ken Ungar

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A recent tweet in my timeline generated lots of engagement. The question raised was, “What is the role of the collegiate tier of esports?”

Comments included “esports is not a real sport” to “pro gamers peak physically before age 21” to “there won’t be an audience since these players are not the best-of-the-best.” These comments may or may not be true. However, there is one sports business truth, as I see it.

Collegiate esports is coming. The question is, who will benefit financially from it? 

At a recent Sports Business Journal conference, Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman said that the NCAA is probably taking a wait-and-see approach on the development of esports. If true, this is a missed opportunity for the NCAA. Here’s why:

  • Dozens of college teams are already forming
  • Many schools are officially recognizing teams
  • Some schools have begun to offer player scholarships
  • Several groups are trying to organize competitions, but lack the IP rights from schools to capitalize financially
  • There is currently no uniform model for how schools can generate revenue from competition
    • Collegiate esports may start to collide with school licensing agreements and licensing agencies / partners
    • Sponsorship models and other traditional sports revenue streams may remain in limbo

When you look at emerging esports competition, it looks very similar to the college sports world in 1906, when the NCAA was founded to protect the interests of college athletes and their schools. With today’s infrastructure, there is opportunity to quickly bring order to this area and ensure growth of these competitions and protection of collegiate gamers. If the NCAA does not involve itself in esports, big questions will remain about how schools benefit from and regulate inter-collegiate competition already occuring.

There are substantial opportunities for collegiate esports gamers and schools in esports marketing, league building and scholarships. The biggest issue, at this point, is who will bring order to this area and create benefit for all the stakeholders.

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