New Standards Implemented for On-Campus Esports Programs

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Esports is advancing to a new level on college campuses. Thanks to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), a set of esports standards is likely to be published in early 2023 — further legitimizing programs as viable campus-based activities.

“Before the pandemic, the prevalence of these programs wasn’t as broad as it is now,” says Jason Vlastaras, associate director of program operations for Iowa State University’s Recreation Services Department and one of two NIRSA representatives on CAS. “Programs are popping up not just within campus rec, but also in athletics, at student unions and in campus housing or other areas of student affairs. So it necessitated having some organization for how we’re going to justify these programs on campus — which have a price tag and a lot of infrastructure.”

The standards also will seek to provide best practices for helping colleges and universities build new esports programs from scratch or enhance existing programs.
“We want to make sure that we’re elevating student learning and success through having these programs,” Vlastaras continues. “The competitive aspect is great, but there’s also the community-building and the skills development, which don’t get touched on as much.”

“I think esports attracts a group of students who might not otherwise be involved in campus recreation,” adds Jake Eubank, undergraduate program director and assistant professor of recreation education and therapy at Lehman College-City University of New York, and Vlastaras’s NIRSA teammate on CAS. “I think we are able to pull in a much broader audience, not just for campus recreation but for overall campus involvement. Esports has introduced a new way for us to provide that sense of belonging that we aim for.”

Gaming 2Three essential components

CAS is the pre-eminent force for promoting standards in student affairs, student services and student development programs. The council creates and delivers standards, guidelines and self-assessment guides that aim to foster and enhance student learning, development and achievement. The standards are crafted by experts in 48 functional areas. About 30 representatives from colleges and universities, collegiate esports organizations and other practitioner groups have been developing the esports standards.

The new standards will be divided into 12 categories, as designated by CAS — including such critical ones as “technology,” “leadership, management and supervision” and “access, equity, diversity and inclusion.”

They will, for example, address such questions as: What are the best ways to incorporate esports technology with on-campus IT security protocols? How do you define a “professional esports staff member”? And what skills should that individual bring to the role?

“Right now, you could have campuses hiring somebody who is good at esports, but they might not understand student development — or even how to work with students at all,” Vlastaras says. “And that can have a toxic effect.”

Eubank notes that esports relies on accessibility more than other campus recreation programs, because many participants compete remotely using their own equipment.

“From my perspective working at a Hispanic-serving commuter school, we serve a lot of low-income students, and that’s one reason why these standards are so important,” he says, adding that esports falls under “campus activities” at Lehman College and will soon be considered a “student club.” “Access to this type of technology is not cheap. We know that individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds play console games a lot, so when you’re thinking about building a program, are you considering the titles and types of gaming systems that are most accessible to the population that you’re serving?”

Other categories of the forthcoming standards will focus on “mission,” “program and services,” “student learning, development and success,” “assessment,” “human resources,” “communication and collaboration,” “ethics, law and policy,” “financial resources” and “facilities and infrastructure.”

“I would have loved to have had these standards in my hands when I was planning our program at Iowa State,” says Vlastaras, who oversees an esports program with 40 teams in 10 games headquartered in a dedicated space that previously housed two squash courts. “They will serve as a great justification tool for the benefits of esports programming, and they also will serve as a great planning tool and a great evaluation tool. I’m going to still be able to use these standards years from now, because they will include a self-assessment guide.”

CAS offers functional area standards (such as the esports standards when they are available) for $30 each, while self-assessment guides can be purchased for $65.

Both Vlastaras and Eubank are eager to share the standards with their peers. “Esports is a big and emerging trend,” Eubank says. “And I think the new standards will be viewed by campus rec professionals as developmentally beneficial.”

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