Opinion: Varsity eSports would give kids a new opportunity

By Josh Brown - Troy Daily News Sports Editor

New ideas are often met with fear, scorn and anger.

It’s difficult to see why, though, when those new ideas could give children a new chance at a better future for themselves.

With the number of colleges and universities that offer varsity scholarships in eSports — the rapidly growing world of competitive video games — seeing eSports become a club or even varsity high school sports is not outside the realm of possibility. And while many sports fans’ knee-jerk reaction to that thought would likely be “but that isn’t a sport!” competitive gaming would still potentially offer high school kids another option when it comes to facing down their ridiculously-expensive higher education costs.

OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass lent some credibility to the thought of varsity eSports in Ohio earlier this week on Twitter. Quoting a tweet from Seth Staskey from the Martins Ferry Times Leader about eSports that read “Could be an OHSAA sport down the road. And I’m not kidding,” Snodgrass said, “Definitely not kidding. This is much bigger than many think.”

That assessment is an understatement, too.

The world of competitive eSports has been growing for years. From real-time strategy games like “Starcraft” to fighting games like “Super Smash Brothers” to Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games like “DOTA 2,” “League of Legends” or “Heroes of the Storm” — which has been nationally televised on ESPN — and yes, even sports games like the “Madden” football series, eSports have been around in one form or another for decades. In 2018, “DOTA 2’s” The International tournament set a new record for the biggest prize pool for a single event at $24.8 million, and popular battle royale game “Fortnite” announced a $100 million prize pool over the course of its 2017-18 competitive season.

And just last month, Disney announced a deal with the Overwatch League — a professional eSports league based around hero shooter “Overwatch” — to televise its second season on Disney XD, ESPN 2 and even ABC. Its opening week drew 13 million viewers.

According to a Syracuse Online Business blog post from January titled “With viewership and revenue booming, eSports set to compete with traditional sports,” a tech consulting firm called Activate says that roughly 250 million people watch eSports in some form, and it predicts that by 2021 more people will watch eSports than every traditional pro sports league except for the NFL.

It’s a strange pill to swallow, but it’s not terribly surprising given the popularity of Twitch streamers.

Thanks to livestreaming sites like Twitch, Mixer and YouTube, eSports athletes — yes, that’s right, athletes — can go straight to their fans. Thanks largely to subscriptions and donations, popular “Fortnite” streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins made almost $10 million in 2018 alone, he told CNN in January. And now eSports athletes are even represented by talent agencies like Loaded — which represents the biggest names in streaming like Ninja and whose CEO lives right here in Troy.

It’s a lot to take in. And naturally, fans of more traditional sports haven’t reacted well.

After a number of other Twitter users replied to Staskey’s and Snodgrass’ tweets by expressing disbelief with cynicism or even outright anger — at least two replies referred to the thought as “a sign of the apocalypse” — and predictably mocking the concept with “not a sport” jokes, Snodgrass weighed back in, saying “Several state associations have already adopted and 3-4 universities in Ohio offer scholarships. It’s just real. No timetable and no current plans to adopt but we always look forward.”

So yes, “discussions” and “plans” are very different things, so even if this were to ever happen, it would be years away. But it also certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Sure, there’d be lots of hurdles to overcome from a logistics standpoint. The computer equipment would be fairly expensive, not to mention space to hold events — I’m guessing not in the high school gymnasiums — as well as new coaching staffs, etc. But it’s also something schools could balance out with profits — schools that already have audio-visual clubs could likely get their help in setting up Twitch, Mixer or YouTube streaming for their teams’ matches and even maybe begin bringing in revenue from those platforms. No doubt the OHSAA has thought of this already, since if other states have already adopted eSports, there must be blueprints for it already.

And to the naysayers that can’t or won’t change their definition of sports, the idea that some sports can be considered more “real” compared to others is a useless one that can be thrown right out the window. By merely existing, eSports doesn’t make baseball or football or anything else less of a sport. You can still have those things. And fans of other things can have their things, too. And everything will still be fine in the world.

But the biggest thing to point out here, of course, is that this would benefit children.

This would be another opportunity for them to advance their lives, to get to the next level, to pay for a college education. Just in Ohio, Miami University in Oxford led the way launching a varsity eSports program, and the University of Akron, Tiffin University and Lourdes University in Sylvania all also have varsity programs, not to mention many other colleges around the country that offer eSports scholarships.

And not only that, but it would be a chance for high school kids that would likely never have the opportunity or even interest in participating in a varsity activity to be part of something.

It’s difficult to imagine being opposed to something that would make kids’ lives better, and hopefully the OHSAA will continue its discussions and inquiries into adding eSports to the fold.


By Josh Brown

Troy Daily News Sports Editor

Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at jbrown@aimmediamidwest.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.

Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at jbrown@aimmediamidwest.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.