Connection: a fundamental feeling colleges and universities are aiming to cultivate in the upcoming school year. Historically, in-person events and programs were how campuses united students, but generations of digital natives and physical distancing could leave traditional practices behind. As the fall semester approaches, universities must act as leaders to digitally transform student connection.
Collegiate social life has afforded students the opportunity to make lifelong friends and professional contacts while carving out their own identities. However, this year will look different. The challenges of 2020 emphasize a pertinent point: technology is an extension of ourselves and its use for connection will continue to increase.
As people desperately search for connection, screens are becoming a pivotal gateway. This digital evolution brings great potential for colleges to fuel social experiences and sustain a sense of connection. While universities may not be able to replicate the full college experience online, digital tools, virtual communities and online games can help normalize a new kind of engagement.
This is especially important for freshmen who won’t have the chance to experience the same in-person orientations to meet their peers. Instead, they’ll rely on digital socialization tools, such as online chat rooms, video calls and video games.
To make going back to school more enjoyable for students, colleges should capitalize on their current interests. There are 211 million Americans who play video games1 — 21% of whom are under the age of 182 — which makes video games one of the most in-demand activities for current and future students.
When played with others, video games encourage teamwork and cooperation. Working together toward a common goal is commonplace in recreational video game leagues, which have been played since the 70s. As these leagues have become more structured, they have earned a new name: esports.
By leveraging pre-existing interest in video games, esports has become key to connecting students, more than 900 to be exact.3 Passionate students have led this charge and are now demanding greater university support. Universities are now viewing esports as a means of student engagement, recruitment and retention. University of Utah’s esports director explains by identifying esports gamers as student athletes, colleges are able to give a major reason to identify with the school and brand.4
Within this new digital environment, recreational esports are becoming the premier platform for building student communities spanning generations, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and other demographics. While students are unable to meet face-to-face, they can join online gaming communities and enjoy self-expression, socialization and fun.
1. Crecente, Brian. “Nearly 70% of Americans Play Video Games, Mostly on Smartphones (Study).” Variety, Variety, 11 Sept. 2018. 2. “2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.” Entertainment Software Association, Entertainment Software Association, 2019. 3. “About.” Collegiate Starleague, cstarleague.com. 4. edtechmagazine.com