eSports,” Sam Churchill

August 16, 2018; Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) and Chronicle of Higher Education

eSports are drawing a great deal of attention and no small amount of money. The players don’t wear shoulder pads or special running shoes; they don’t even have to leave their chairs. But it appears a few colleges will drop some cash on the buildings that hold those chairs as their latest fundraising project.

The University of Akron is renovating rooms in the student union, the honors college— and, in a move of obvious irony, the football stadium—for about $750,000. Alex Knisely, a spokesman for the school, said in an email to the Chronicle of Higher Education that they are working on sponsorships to cover the refurbishing costs. It will take $400,000 to maintain the eSports teams; there are game licenses for $70,000, facility upkeep, and the usual overhead of marketing and travel. And, although there is no need for a field to run on, there are salaries for coaches, coordinators, team managers, and, yes, potential scholarships for players, that have to be covered.

Seventy-eight colleges are now fielding eSports competitive teams, from Boise State University to SUNY Canton. The University of Akron says the new centers would have “the largest amount of dedicated eSports space of any university in the world to date.”

Five inaugural varsity teams will compete this fall in the video games Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Rocket League. The games explore themes of fantasy and horror; thwarting insidious terrorist plots; and soccer with rocket-powered cars.

In the meantime, the university is phasing out about 20 percent of its degree programs to release approximately $6 million for reallocation. All 10 Ph.D., 33 Master’s, 20 Bachelor’s, and 17 Associates programs will be terminated according to a statement from the Board of Trustees. The school cites low enrollment in some and duplication in other colleges.

The statement went on to say that the school will not be terminating faculty or staff and, in fact, plans to hire 31 full-time teachers.

The University of Akron has attempted to change the school’s direction before. The president in 2015, Scott L. Scarborough, attempted to rebrand it as the state’s “Polytechnic University” to meet the needs of technological jobs. To answer declining enrollment, he also wanted to expand nursing courses and online courses. It failed; the rebranding prompted a petition of more than 10,000 signatures, the faculty voted several times with “no confidence” statements, and, after only two years, the president resigned.

Ohio Department of Higher Education’s chancellor, John Carey, believes at this time the cuts will strengthen the remaining programs. It remains to be seen if gaming competitions as a sport will be able to raise funds as football does, and if it will help to strengthen the university.—Marian Conway