Esports clubs and teams are popping up at college campuses across the United States, and the phenomenon of collegiate gaming has taken hold here in Arizona. And, why not, as students say it helps them connect with classmates in fun and engaging ways.
Phoenix College’s (PC) Esports Club president, Matt Sandoval, said “The reason I decided to be a part of esports is because I can connect in a new way outside of class.” When the pandemic began, teaching and learning transitioned online, which led to less ‘face’ time and ways of interacting with other students. PC’s esports club emerged right when students needed it most, as a way of meeting others and forming new friendships while everyone was isolated. “For a lot of people, esports is a way to relieve stress,” said Sandoval, “it’s an escape from work and school, which is really important right now.”
Esports has become part of the draw to attend college just like basketball, soccer and other competitive collegiate sports. There are more than 1,600 esports clubs across 600 two- and four-year schools, and colleges are awarding as much as $16 million in scholarships annually according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Students also compete for prize money at esports competitions.
The Phoenix College esports team started in the spring of 2020, with 10 members and has grown to 36 members. Last year, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) started the Maricopa Esports League. Now, more than 600 students, staff, and faculty across the Maricopa Esports League are engaging via Discord, an esports gaming platform.
PC Esports Club advisor, Travis Maldonado, said this has been particularly important during the pandemic because, “We can connect with these 600 people outside of traditional communication channels.” The Discord platform is a social media tool, used to moderate and provide a space for teams to communicate across schools - within the games.
“The Discord platform and the Esports League allow us to help students succeed across the District,” said Michael Curtis, advisor of Chandler Gilbert Community College’s (CGCC) Esports Club, the first of the 10 community colleges within the District to have an esports team.
Aside from the growing presence and membership within Discord, PC is working on a physical space - a gaming lab - where the esports team will meet as a club, and game together in-person. Gaming labs and esports facilities are becoming prevalent at college campuses across the country because the facilities provide a dedicated space where esports players engage, compete, and build their teams. These facilities are equally important as traditional facilities for spots like wrestling, tennis, etc., because esports provides safe spaces to learn team-building, collaboration, and communication.
According to Forbes Magazine, esports is driving recruitment at colleges everywhere; reporting that esports players are academic achievers and interested in high-demand STEM careers.
And, esports has proven to be a great way to drive student retention. “We provide a safe place for students with a common interest in gaming to come together and engage with each other in person and online,” said Curtis, CGCC’s Esports advisor. Students compete for scholarships or just play for fun in esports like PlayVS, NACE Star League, Overwatch Collegiate, AVGL, Valorant, Rocket League, League of Legends, and Smash Brothers.
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