About a year ago, Dr. Scott Dalrymple was inaugurated as the 17th president of Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. As part of his inauguration events, the president challenged students to beat him in a Madden NFL 25 tournament on PS4.
“He created a smack talk video that went viral, got a lot of media publicity and really, we just had a really positive reaction from our students, from media, from prospective students,” said Bryan Curtis, the eSport director for the school. “So, we were looking for a way to capitalize on that.”
That is how the eSports program at Columbia College was born. Officially launching in the fall of 2016, Curtis explained they are currently in the process of building a team and hiring a part-time coach. A year from now, they will be competing in the game League of Legends, which already has an established league among colleges.
“We’ve really seen growth in eSports nationally,” said Curtis. “It just gives us another offering to our students, another opportunity for them to get involved in some extracurricular activities when they come on campus. So we just feel like it’s another appeal to prospective students as they’re looking for colleges.”
First and foremost, eSports needed a home at Columbia College. Renovating an old soccer locker room into the official Gaming Hut, it is equipped with 12 computer stations, four flat screen TVs and various gaming systems. A part-time coach will be hired to help with strategy and gaming principles.
In terms of research, Curtis has two sources that helped him build the college’s eSport program. First is Robert Morris University, the first school that offered scholarships for eSports. Curtis has modeled much of what the university has done. For example, Curtis said social media is the place to market an eSport program based on what happened with Robert Morris. While the university’s traditional marketing for the eSports scholarship didn’t take off, the moment the news hit Twitter and the maker of League of Legends, Riot Games, retweeted the college, Robert Morris received tons of applications.
Second, Curtis shared that Columbia College has become involved with Epic Ed, a new startup company. “Connor Hall and his partners are the ones that own that company,” said Curtis. “We brought him in over the summer and he’s been extremely helpful. He’s very knowledgeable in eSports, so we leaned on his expertise quite a bit to kind of advise and talk about the recruiting process, what eSports looks like.”
Overall, Curtis encouraged university and campus recreation centers to look into eSports. “For me, I come from a very traditional sports background. So eSports, at first, is such an outside of the box thinking. It’s very different,” he said. “I would just encourage people to keep an open mind toward eSports. I know it’s not your typical scholarship for a basketball team or a volleyball team, whatever the case may be. But eSports, they’re coming. They’re the future, that’s for sure. And these students will be asked to participate in practices and will have academic requirements just like all of our other athletes. So I think my biggest piece of advice is just to keep an open mind.”