Would you be surprised to know that Ferris State University has multiple eSports teams? Over 100 students self-organize, practice, and play competitive matches against students at other universities. There are pre-seasons, tournaments, qualifiers, scholarships, playoffs, coaches, stadiums, millions of dollars in scholarships, and matches broadcast online constantly. Currently, Ferris State University has seven competitive teams playing a mix of six different games. League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, CS:Go, Rocket League, and Smash all offer super competitive scenes. The university pairs with other similarly skilled teams through Tespa and CLS.
Our Overwatch team just finished the pre-season with 12 wins and 12 losses. Some highlights of the 12-week pre-season include matches against UCLA, Johns Hopkins University, and RIT. The competitive season starts in the Spring 2019 semester. If the schedule stays consistent, you will be able to watch these matches at https://twitch.tv/ferrisesports on Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Over the next several semesters, organizations like NACE (National Association of Collegiate eSports) will help develop the competitive scene on college campuses.
As the geekiest nerd present in most holiday gatherings, I am likely to have a conversation in the next couple of weeks about how “eSports isn’t a real sport.” My extended family has a very traditional view of what sports are. What the conversation boils down to is there is a perception that a sport requires some sort of grueling physical endurance. If we can accept that the Olympics are experts in defining sports, we can see that they will be issuing medals for things like shooting, golf, and archery. These athletes have highly honed physical coordination and immense mental focus. What is missing is the idea that they require more than the most basic of physical training, which is more likely to include thousands of hours practicing their sport.
I see students researching the current game strategies, scouting teams and players they will encounter in the next match, and practicing different roles and positions on the team. I watch participation in the matches from students who do not necessarily want to play, but want to be part of the team. The coach does not play but provides a critical analysis and objective view of the skills players demonstrate. Broadcasters provide commentary for the live matches and bring a new level of entertainment to the viewers.
I see our curriculum being applied on a weekly basis. Students demonstrate the mystical “21st century skills” that education often struggles to measure. You will be hard-pressed to find an environment that can better measure items like collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving in a more objective and timely manner. I can tell when these academic objectives are not in place on an eSports team because all the characters are likely dead. Competitive eSports has zero tolerance or forgiveness for any lack of these skills. The good news is that the athletes can review every play and conversation; there is an opportunity for feedback and growth with every setback.
On a more practical side, I see our students applying formal curriculum from degrees like TV & Digital Media Production, Digital Animation & Game Design, and Sports Communication. Given the nature of this sport, students have an opportunity to participate in ways that might not present themselves in a more formal setting. Ferris State University provides our students with a platform to display their skills in ways that employers can recognize.
The next time you see students “just playing a game,” stop and watch. It is likely that you will witness a student display a set of knowledge you know nothing about. They will demonstrate a physical dexterity and coordination that rivals any activity. You will see them fail and try again repeatedly until they master a new skill. If you are feeling brave, ask to play. Nothing will make you appreciate the skill it takes to succeed in these digital environments quicker than failing at it. This is the next generation of student athletes.
~Written by Dr. Andrew Peterson, Coordinator of Instructional Technology