By Katy Savage
CASTLETON—Sitting before a screen may not seem like a sport, but colleges and universities are starting to offer gaming at the varsity level.
The College of St. Joseph added esports to its list of varsity sports last year while Castleton University announced
it will offer esports as a club sport for the first time this fall.
“It’s had tons of success around the world, tons of interest and something that a lot of students can participate in,” said Castleton University Dean of Advancement Jeff Weld.
About 60 colleges across the country offer esports programs. Most of the students play and compete in a game called League of Legends, an online game that has championship matches and tournaments with players around the world.
“It’s very new to the collegiate world,” Weld said.
The program at Castleton is spearheaded by Chief Technology Officer Gayle Malinowski and sophomore student Jac Culpo, who has been playing video games since he was 4.
“That’s my primary hobby,” said Culpo.
Culpo spent about 50 hours a week playing video games in high school. Respected players play up to nine hours a day, he said.
“It’s a sport in the same way I would say chess is a sport,” said Culpo. “It’s a game that maybe doesn’t require a ton of physical exertion, but it requires an insane amount of mental focus and strategy.”
The 19 year old, who is studying communication with focus on sports, wants to be a sports journalist. He likes basketball and other sporting activities the college offers but said the esports program will be a draw for students with more diverse interests.
“It provides another place for people to hangout,” he said. “ I also think it could bring a lot money to the college,” he added, mentioning esports sponsorship opportunities.
Castleton University and College of St Joseph are both small, struggling liberal arts colleges that have both laid off staff and professors in recent years.
CU announced a recent uptick in enrollment.Weld is hoping esports will draw new students to campus.
“When the League of Legends is selling out 80,000 seats in an Olympic stadium to witness their championships live, and another 57 million are tuning in online, you know there is huge potential,” he said in a press release. “I am a traditional sports fan who was admittedly skeptical of the potential at first, but those numbers are staggering when you consider 40 million people watched Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and that set a 25-year high water mark.”
CSJ Head Coach & Director of esports Chris Towle said about 11 students participated in esports at the varsity in its inaugural year. Students practiced in a classroom three days a week for 2-4 hours at a time.
Students were also educated on stress management and nutrition to better their concentration.
Towle said esports requires a different mentality from other sports.
“The rules of basketball never change,” he said. “The rules in League of Legends can change every two weeks.”
CSJ competed in some tournaments last year, but Towle said the sport is still new.
“A lot of us coaches are trying to figure out how to hold tournaments,” Towle said.
Towle anticipates the sport will grow with the rise of virtual sporting experiences.