SUGAR GROVE – Dr. Scott Peska joked that his parents told him he could never get a job playing video games.
Peska, the assistant vice president of student services at Waubonsee Community College, then talked about how eSports were coming to the Sugar Grove campus.
“We are in the process of establishing an eSports team or teams for the college,” he said during the Dec. 11 school board meeting. “If you’re not familiar with eSports, it’s essentially competitive video gaming. My parents always told me I’d never get a job playing video games, but those days are over. Now there are scholarships and careers and broadcasting to competitive game play.”
eSports are so hot right now that it was only a matter of time before they trickled into colleges such as Waubonsee. According to a report from Goldman Sachs, eSports’ revenue reached $869 million in 2018 and is expected to more than triple to $2.96 billion by 2022.
“eSports is such a growing industry that when I was doing some research – it’s amazing to think – but over 100,000 people watched the League of Legends sports competition in person than watched the Super Bowl [in person],” he said. “It’s this really large underground phenomenon that is taking place and now becoming mainstream.”
eSports are now part of athletics at the school, as $31,504 in equipment was purchased from CDW in Vernon Hills. The equipment purchase includes, but is not limited to, machines and headsets, as well as network upgrades and cabling.
Rebecca Oliver, a longtime Waubonsee board member who has served since 1997 – back when the original Grand Theft Auto was just released – shared her excitement about eSports coming to the college.
“I think this is going to be a great recruitment target,” she said. “It is incredibly popular. I saw it a couple of years ago on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and it is huge. I was just amazed, and you can’t make a living playing video games? Well, you’re wrong, you can.”
Peska said that when he first put his report together on eSports in July, there were about 130 colleges that were part of the National Association of Collegiate ESports (NACE), and now there are more than 450.
“It’s really growing and the NJCAA in September decided to support eSports,” he said. “It was one of the first athletic associations to put together some regulations and rules on how to govern eSport competitions.”
Rocket League and League of Legends are the first two games being discussed. Peska said Waubonsee is avoiding controversial first-person shooter games at least at this time.
The college hired Jarod Ericksen as head coach and hopes to have the program up and running by spring.
“He has to field a team so he’s recruiting right now,” Peska said. “We’re hoping we’ll have something by March and April and we’ll start to get competitive, but we’re probably looking at next fall as the real competition.”
An added bonus is there’s interest at the high school level in eSports. Peska said 10 of the area high schools already have eSports clubs, including some with more than 100 members.
“It’s becoming such a large phenomenon that we wanted to provide opportunities for them to engage with us and to do it under athletics,” he said. “We’ll treat [our eSports athletes] like all of our other athletes.”
Oliver said eSports athletes usually excel academically.
“The level of academic performance in eSports’ student-athletes was incredible,” she said. “It gave them a place to be instead of just gaming. They could game and also go to college. Good for us.”