By Mark Gray
The holiday gift that keeps teenagers on the sofa with game controllers in their hands may help parents pay their college tuition. For some, training to compete in cyberspace contests like Fortnite and NBA2K could soon replace training for team sports — and create a new scholarship pipeline and professional opportunities after graduation.
Gaming and esports are becoming sources of camaraderie and competition for students at HBCUs. Three of the four HBCU athletic conferences have corporate partnerships with developers of gaming platforms that allow students to compete against on-campus peers as well as students at schools in their conferences. And this popular form of social entertainment is quickly becoming more than just a pastime.
“Having an esports presence is very important to our institutions in the future,” Southwestern Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Jason Cable said.
Esports teams and individuals compete head-to-head in live online competitions. The industry has grown rapidly worldwide, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and global audiences of more than 443 million, according to research by Green Man Gaming.
Most conventional sports franchises took financial losses last spring as American sports leagues postponed events and slashed their schedules to avoid exposing players and fans to the coronavirus. Esports tournaments picked up the slack through sports network TV. College and high school students looking for new ways to live, work, learn and play turned to competitive video gaming more than ever, making esports a cultural force.
Total enrollment at America’s 101 black colleges and universities dropped by 6,000 in the 2018-19 school year. School administrators see a new way to help recover.
“Our institutions are looking to increase enrollment and retain students, and esports gives them a chance to do both,” Cable said. “It’s the next big thing.”
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said gaming and esports, which are grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, benefit students academically.
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