Recreational esports are getting plenty of positive attention, especially from colleges. Some highly recognized, competitive educational institutions (including Duke University) have already incorporated esports into their advertised extracurriculars — and more are joining the movement.
It’s important to note that recreational esports programs are different from gaming tournaments. Tournaments are high-pressure, one-off events strictly for competitive players; recreational programs have leagues where casual gamers can enjoy structured play with friends.
What’s caused this shift toward casual esports in university programs? Research has revealed the benefits of gaming for universities and their populations. For instance, 40% of Mission Control platform users have never participated in campus athletics before. Esports offers students a unique opportunity to bond with other people who share similar interests while creating a larger, intramural campus community.
The Benefits of Recreational Esports
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the esports format can break down barriers. Users don’t have to be of a particular gender, race, or ability to play “Fortnite” or “Overwatch” — they just need to want to have fun and flex different brain muscles than they use in their day-to-day courses.
The advantages of collegiate esports aren’t solely social, though. They’re also practical. Children and young adults who try esports have the chance to hone their collaboration skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication talents. For some, gaming can even provide an emotional outlet that allows players to de-stress from the weight of classes and exams in a supportive, empathetic environment.
Online gaming communities can benefit universities, too. For example, institutions could leverage their esports leagues to attract talented STEM field applicants or simply differentiate their brand in a crowded, competitive space. By appealing to new audiences, colleges may be able to achieve a more distinct, eclectic population.
Once at the college, students interested in esports may be more inclined to put down roots, improving retention rates thanks to a sense of belonging. Case in point: Southwest Baptist University’s esports may have helped improve graduation percentages, according to the team’s head coach. Student engagement is a holy grail for universities, and esports can help institutions meet students where their interests lie.
“Southwest Baptist University’s esports program may have helped improve graduation percentages, according to the team’s head coach.”
Starting Your Campus’ College Recreational Esports Program
If you’re interested in bringing recreational esports to your institution, try following these steps. This will help you lay the foundation for a thriving esports culture.
1. Gauge your college community’s interest in esports.
Is esports right for your campus? Send your student body a survey asking about gaming and esports. Find out how many students play video games and which games are most popular. Then, ask whether survey participants would be interested in intramural league-style play (like what exists on campus for basketball or soccer).
Armed with the feedback you receive, you can launch a one-of-a-kind recreational esports league. Not only will it open up more choices for your students, but it will also serve as a casual space for gamers to master real-world talents such as leadership, self-discipline, and teamwork.
2. Research league management platforms.
It can be tough to manage your own leagues without a technical solution. You could use Microsoft Excel and a bunch of emails to track standings, schedule games, and communicate, but that’s a lot of work. You’d have to spend time monitoring everything and learning the rules of potential esports titles. Instead, use software like Mission Control, a platform that specializes in hosting recreational esports leagues.
Mission Control can serve as your guide through the complicated world of esports while making it easy to host intramural leagues. Because they’re similar to the traditional sports leagues you already offer, you’ll be able to easily engage your recreational esports community without getting bogged down in the details.
3. Formalize your program.
At this point, you don’t have to be a gaming expert to create a one-of-a-kind experience for students. Share what you’ve learned with your platform specialist to figure out which initial game offerings and leagues will fit your college’s mission, vision, and values. Some games might be popular, but they might not gel with your university’s brand or values.
Lean on your platform specialist to steer you in the right direction. Remember that you don’t have to offer tons of video game options in the initial phase. A handful should be enough to drive interest and help shape the program.
4. Utilize key people.
Who will head up your esports marketing? How about registrations or future league creation? Assign these responsibilities to some of your institution’s employees. In general, it’s helpful if they’re passionate and knowledgeable about esports (or at least eager to learn).
While you’re at it, having an esports champion at the executive level could be a good idea. Buy-in from a program or school director can go a long way toward getting your college esports league off the runway. You could also consider recruiting a passionate student intern to help with planning, marketing, and execution.
5. Market the league you’ve created.
With your team in place, start marketing to your students via your internal communications portal and social media. Try to find online sites where your campus gamers are likely to hang out, such as on specific subreddits. Working with Mission Control makes it simple to host esports — all you need to do is bring your community to the platform.
Communicate that you’re recruiting players for a recreational esports league. Once you have enough students to begin, give them clear guidelines (just like any other activity). The guidelines will help them understand what you expect from them in terms of behavior, academic standing, and other pertinent conditions. Remember that they don’t need to be complicated to have an impact.
“Many gamers who would otherwise hang in their dorm rooms find the esports atmosphere challenging and inviting.”
Once your gaming community starts evolving, continue to monitor its progress. Don’t be surprised if more students engage than you initially expected. Many gamers who would otherwise hang in their dorm rooms find the esports atmosphere challenging and inviting. Bringing them together will help foster lifelong friendships while participants have the time of their lives — and they’ll always thank their alma mater for making those experiences possible.
Ready to get started? Reach out today! Mission Control can help you navigate the world of esports and create a space for the gamers in your community.