Video games prompt new leagues, college scholarships in US

  • eSports
  • Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020

Video gaming has not only spread to US colleges – students playing both casually and learning the business for academic credit – but some are receiving scholarships for playing on a varsity eSports team. — AFP

Forget about competing on the school track team or hanging out with friends.

In the age of a coronavirus pandemic, there's more time for video games.

For Tyler Telge, a freshman at Manchester Memorial High School, the coronavirus has cleared much of his normal schedule. One thing he has penciled in is joining the Manchester Fortnite League, set to kick off May 1 in New Hampshire.

"It gives me something to do because I have nothing else to do except school work and play video games," said Telge, who averages about six hours of gaming a day.

Chris Morgan, a former Manchester concert promoter, has formed a few leagues under the banner of NHesports. He says it's the first organization in New Hampshire to offer league competition for video game players in their local area.

"It's amateurs who just want to play against each other locally and not play against people in Europe," said Morgan, who lives in Manchester and coaches Trinity High School's soccer team.

eSports is a billion-dollar business worldwide and growing, according to Newzoo, which analyses the gaming industry.

Video gaming has not only spread to US colleges – students playing both casually and learning the business for academic credit – but some are receiving scholarships for playing on a varsity eSports team.

"We participate in eSports as if they were varsity sports teams," said Tim Fowler, director of esports at Southern New Hampshire University.

Right down to jerseys and scholarships averaging about US$2,500 (RM10,903) a student.

SNHU planned to open an eSports arena on campus March 20 before the coronavirus pandemic delayed its unveiling. The arena in the Green Center contains 18 gaming computers that the eSports teams and other students can use as well as installing student work stations to stream and broadcast competitions.

The eSports team, which competes against students from across the US, has players facing off in Fortnite, Hearthstone, League Of Legends and Overwatch.

Tryouts for the varsity eSports team in August 2018 drew 100 registrants. Twenty made the team.

This year's team numbers 22 students. "All of the players that started on the team at the beginning of this year got a scholarship," said Fowler, who recruits students for their specific playing expertise.

SNHU hopes to offer a minor in eSports this fall as part of its sports management program.

Fowler thinks Morgan hit on a "real awesome idea", saying he's not aware of any youth or amateur esports league in the state.

So far, Morgan has signed up 50 Fortnite players, ranging from age 10 to 22.

Players pay US$75 (RM327) to join the Fortnite league, though future leagues may cost less. Competitors play 25 to 30 matches before playoffs and a championship match in June. Cash prizes also are planned.

"It's definitely a business venture," said Morgan, who has worked for several pro sports teams, including the New York Yankees, Miami Heat and Detroit Tigers.

He also has launched a FIFA20 league, partnering with the New Hampshire Soccer Association. That league has lined up nearly 50 players, running from age 10 to a few thirty-somethings.

"We're going to all different states," starting in northern New England, Morgan said.

He hopes to be profitable within a year. He wouldn't say how much it cost to start the venture.

"It's not breaking the bank, but it is a sizable investment," said Morgan, who attended the Fortnite World Cup in New York last year with his son, Josh, a Trinity sophomore.

"Every kid was on the edge of their seat watching all these screens," said Morgan, the competition motivating him to start a league. "It was the most amazing experience to watch the other kids play video games."

Thirteen-year-old Gavin Grillo joined Morgan's Fortnite league.

"Some of my friends are doing it, so it would be fun going against them," said the Auburn teen, who plays video games, namely Madden and Fortnite, for about three hours a day.

"He goes up to the limits his parents set," said his father, Steve.

The younger Grillo, who rates himself as "pretty good”, said he prefers playing against a group of people until "the last person is standing" rather than going up against one person.

Telge, who plays multiple team sports, said he didn't know whether he would have had the time if not for the pandemic's stay-at-home effect.

But now?

"He plays a lot of sports, so not being able to play sports and socialise with friends, he has a lot more time to play this," said his mom, Christine. "This definitely fits into his schedule." – The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)/Tribune News Service

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