Varsity sports on the collegiate level usually bring football, basketball or soccer to mind. Now it's time to add esports to the list.
Dozens of schools around the country are recruiting the best gamers with scholarships. Southern New Hampshire University launched a varsity esports team this fall.
"We put in just as much work as any college team, " said Sultan Akhtar, the team captain of SNHU's team, who takes his game very seriously. "Basketball players, football players, they play hours and hours on the field. We do the same thing, it's just in front of the computer."
More than 100 players tried out for 20 spots on the team's roster. Starting next fall, players will be eligible for scholarships.
"I know parents are now like, 'Hey, start playing this game, I want you to get a scholarship,'" said Akhtar. "That's really cool."
Tim Fowler, the director of esports for SNHU, said games have changed dramatically since the days of Pac-Man, noting, "We're seeing a lot of the games evolve."
"Super Mario Brothers was played 25 years ago. It wasn't incredibly mechanically complex or deep, but these games are now incredibly complex," Fowler said.
So complex that gamers are reaching out to Gamer Sensei in Boston, a company that provides coaching for everything from League of Legends to Fortnight.
"In games where shooting mechanics are important, they may be working on their aim or reflexes or situational awareness," explained Jim Drewry, company CEO. "A lot of our students play more strategic games. Those players are looking for strategic insights, so understanding what the right actions are to take at the right time."
Drewry isn’t surprised esports is being taken so seriously on the collegiate level, especially considering how professional sporting events have become huge spectacles.
"It's really high-intensity competition. It requires focus, mental toughness, a real desire to win. A lot of the attributes you would find in traditional sports."
Fowler believes his players will be picking up more than just gaming skills.
"There are a lot of life skills that you bring from being on these esports teams: communication, problem-solving, teamwork. All those skills can kind of transition to the workplace after graduation," Fowler said.
A national association for esports estimates there are now 80 varsity college programs in the country, offering about $9 million in scholarships.
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