Esports Teams Help HBCUs Increase Enrollment, Retain Students and Create STEM

The holiday gift that keeps teenagers on the sofa with game controllers in their hands may help parents pay their college tuition. For some, training to compete in cyberspace contests like Fortnite and NBA2K could soon replace training for team sports — and create a new scholarship pipeline and professional opportunities after graduation.

Gaming and esports are becoming sources of camaraderie and competition for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Three of the four HBCU athletic conferences have corporate partnerships with developers of gaming platforms that allow students to compete against their on-campus peers and against others at schools who share their conference affiliations. And this popular form of social entertainment is quickly becoming more than just a docile recreational activity for couch potatoes.

“Having an esports presence is very important to our institutions in the future,” said Southwestern Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Jason Cable.

Fortnite is a wildly popular videogame whose best players can compete for college scholarship money. (Epic Games)

Esports teams and individuals compete head-to-head in live, online competitions. The industry had already generated over $1.1 billion by the end of 2019. Today it appeals to millions of fans and competitors across the United States and around the world. The participants are males and females of every generation, crossing races and ethnicities.

Most conventional sports franchises took financial losses last spring as American sports leagues postponed events and slashed their schedule as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered steam. Esports tournaments picked up the slack through sports network TV. College and high school students looking for new ways to live, work, learn and play turned to competitive video gaming more than ever, making esports a cultural force.

America’s 101 black colleges and universities suffered through an enrollment drought during the 2018-19 school year; school administrators see a new way to recover.

“Our institutions are looking to increase enrollment and retain students and Esports gives them a chance to do both,” Cable said.  “It’s the next big thing.”

Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. said that “the move into esports aligns with the educational experience in STEM and overall strategic plan that remains consistent with efforts to continuously grow our brand and advance our students.”

McWilliams’s athletic conference is one of three dedicated HBCU sports leagues that have attracted corporate sponsorships for competitive gaming platforms and tournaments while athletic sports remain on partial hiatus.

Gamers can compete in tournaments for scholarship money and for the attention of professional sports franchises that may hire the esports movement’s most…

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