We are currently witnessing a shift in media consuming culture. People are cutting the cord. Traditional cable television is in a war for survival against online video & streaming services. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Roku, YouTube, Twitch. These are the names of the next generation of media giants. The futures of all industries that broadcast content will be decided by where the younger audiences choose to watch their programming.
The sports industry is not immune to this shift either. Numbers and ratings are on the decline for sports week to week. Larger events may be the only ones spared from this trend, The Super Bowl being the major example. Baseball viewership is down, football viewership down, impacted by factors like length of play and volume of commercial breaks. The increase in popularity of other types of sports has also contributed to slipping numbers.
Esports have a chance to solidify themselves as the sport of this generation. They combine interactivity, teamwork, trending games, and hold championship tournaments that draw millions of viewers online via Twitch and other platforms. They also connect to the younger audience, since this audience has just grown up and is still growing up with these games. Esports has even entered the collegiate competition scene. Collegiate esports have roots in Europe and a variety of associations organize competitions in North America, like the AVGL, National Collegiate eSports Association, and Collegiate Starleague. Some schools, like Kansas Wesleyan University, have even established varsity esports programs. The door is open for the NCAA to establish itself as the Collegiate esports king.
The NCAA is the king when it comes to college sports. NCAA March Madness and College Football is some of the most watched cable television programming. Why not add esports to that lineup? A handful of varsity teams already exist. They can serve as models for other institutions interested in esports. Esports is also a sound financial investment. The professional Season 3 World Championship Grand Final for League of Legends drew 370 million total hours of live coverage, according to ESPN. The Championship saw a growth in viewership from 36 million to 43 million unique viewers. There is an audience for esports, and people are taking notice. Famous stars like Ashton Kutcher and Rick Fox own stakes in professional esports teams. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the most recent high profile traditional sports businessman to invest in esports, identifying the trend in the millennial audience.
Back with the NCAA, an esports team would provide less of a financial burden on the school than larger sports like football, basketball, and hockey. College football programs are notorious for operating at a financial loss outside of a few universities. Some computers, apparel, and travel would comprise most of the budget for esports student athletes. It has a large and growing audience and a relatively small overhead. Finding the money to hold the tournaments should be no issue either. NCAA tournaments can be funded through major broadcast deals. For the first time, we could see a major bidding war take place between traditional cable television and newer online video streaming companies for the rights to broadcast the NCAA Esports Seasons & Esports Championships Tournaments.
The foundation of competitive video gaming mirrors principles important to the NCAA. In order for teams to be successful, they rely on unwavering teamwork, fair play, practice, dedication, and study. In the same manner a quarterback studies film of the opponent’s defense, esports teams dissect the tendencies of their future adversaries. Esports fits the mold of what a university would want from their student athletes.
The Pokémon Video Game Championships, League of Legends, Overwatch, Dota 2, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty. All are staples on the esports scene. The NCAA has the potential to become the cornerstone of the American collegiate esports scene. The audience is there, the financials are there. So NCAA, what is your play?