The Rise of Esports in Campus Rec

Ahead of the upcoming Collegiate Esports Virtual Institute which is taking place July 14-15, the Association reached out to two NIRSA members who have been active in the evolution of their campus esports programs. Cybbi Barton, Program Manager – Club Sports & Esports at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and Antonio Gonzalez, Assistant Director for Sports Programs and Outdoor Facilities at the University of South Florida, are both volunteers on NIRSA’s Esports Advisory Council and they recently shared their insights about the rise of esports in campus recreation.

Robert Morris University in Illinois’ esports program is often credited as a pivotal moment in the history of esports on college campuses. In 2014, the university introduced a formal esports program that included varsity status and scholarships. That esports program paved the way for similar programs to emerge on campuses across the country.

“Esports, as a whole, has really started growing in the past five years,” explains Antonio. “However, a lot of the earliest adopters developed their esports programs as distinct departments or with heavy integration into academic programming—and most existed outside of campus recreation’s sphere of influence.” But, over the past two years—and probably in response to the pandemic—“a lot of campus recreation programs who had previously been unsure of how esports would fit into their department’s portfolio of offerings have been forced to evolve, adapt, and enter into this space,” says Antonio.

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