While most of the focus in esports gaming is on top-level professional contests, there is also a burgeoning esports gaming scene at the collegiate level.
This is more than just a group of students deciding to play a popular esports title against themselves. There are now collegiate esports leagues across the globe, so much so that a number of colleges in the United States, China, South Korea, and even in the UK are offering specialist esports scholarships to prospective students.
Australian esports scholarships
Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has joined these ranks recently. It offered five $10,000 scholarships to students good enough to join its high-level esports team. The university has proclaimed, as reported in the Brisbane Times, that it is the first Australian university to offer such scholarships.
In January, the five students received the first wave of scholarships as part of QUT’s elite athlete program. They will represent the QUT Tigers, which plays League of Legends in the Oceanic Challenger Series.
Last year, the QUT Tigers became the first ever university-based team to compete in the OCS series, which is just one step away from the Oceanic Professional League.
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The QUT scholarship details
Explaining how the scholarship system would work at QUT, its Elite Athlete Program coordinator Emily Rosemund stated:
“We don’t have an esports degree as such, but it is now within the sports program and the funds will now be shared across for athletes, which also will now include gamers.
“Just as triathletes participate in triathlons, gamers can study at QUT while receiving the support within the sports program, including gym access, nutrition guides and training sessions.
“As with all our sports programs, gamers will meet an expected performance standard if part of the team while achieving academic studies, such as a good GPA, and to help drive research initiatives.”
The university has recently invested in a specialist arena for gamers. That’s primarily due to the fact that the gaming club at QUT now boasts 250 members.
Of course, the situation in Australia may lag behind the far more established and harmonized systems in Asia and North American. Even so, that has not stopped one education expert from slamming QUT’s decision.
Dr. Kevin O’Donnelly, a senior research fellow from the Australian Catholic University, claims investing in esports at the university level is an example of how educational standards in Australia are declining.
“This is the time to raise standards of all areas of learning such as science, English and maths,” O’Donnelly told the Brisbane Times. “It’s a waste of effort, resources and money to be offering support in what really is a past-time and hobby.
“There are far more important and essential qualifications than being a gamer that we need in Australia.
“I’d argue careers in mining and engineering and also in terms of aged care and health are far more important; and young, talented people should be rewarded in those areas rather than gaming.”
O’Donnelly also stated gaming could potentially be “dangerous” and “compulsive” and that it “does not have much benefit to the broader society” and can result in poor communication skills.
Is O’Donnelly correct?
In that same Brisbane Times article, QUT esports organiser Nick Lynch was quick to point out that a lack of communication skills is not a typical weakspot of gamers.
“Even if you are fantastic at playing, if you aren’t able to communicate clearly and effectively, you won’t do well,” Lynch said.
The British Esports Association concurred stating in its Benefits of Esports research that 54 percent of frequent gamers say games help them connect with their friends. Furthermore, playing esports can have a number of other positive effects, including:
- Rehabilitating individuals with perceptual or cognitive deficits
- The ability to improve perceptual skills, decision-making, processing speed, and multitasking
- Optimizing cognitive performance and function
- A learning tool for developing language, maths, reading, and social skills
- Increased ability in task management skills
- Improved teamwork
- Raised motivation as an individual and as a team
- Improved reading comprehension, sight and reaction times and phonics skills
- Improvement in players psychological well-being and reduction of stress
- Improved memory
- Improved ability to complete tasks
Unfortunately, O’Donnelly’s comments could be applied to almost any extra-curricular activities that students engage in outside of their fields of study. He’s singled out esports for criticism when he could just easily go after football, rock music, or painting.
What is clear is that university esports are here to stay. The rapid development of esports at colleges is providing a fabulous grass-roots level for young, talented players. If scholarships can be handed out for sports, music, or indeed any other hobbies, why not esports?
Photo credit: Jeff Greenberg / Contributor / Getty Images