ESPORTS: CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE OF STUDENT ENGAGEMENT!

By: Dr. Charles M. Hueber
Dean of Students, Schreiner University
Co-founder of Student League for Intercollegiate Esports (SLICE)

In many ways, the most dramatic change in higher education today is the advancement of technology and the role in which content is being delivered. We are living through this shift and are struggling to navigate the role student activities and student affairs will play in an increasingly more digital college landscape.

To be fair, faculty are struggling with their role in this world as well. The open source movement and credentialing of specific skills through online non-university companies has vividly illustrated the extent to which faculty may no longer be content experts at their local institutions. Content is fundamentally being unbundled from the college and university experience.

All hope is not lost, because while this unbundling of content is taking place, there seems to be a re-commitment to the idea that the college and university experience is so important because it provides personal and social development in experiential and authentic—but managed—environments. Parents still want their children to go to our institutions to develop as individuals and citizens even if much of the traditional curricular learning no longer has to take place on campus. Assuming that student development has been the traditional bailiwick of the student affairs professional, it seems apparent that their positions will be secure for the future and perhaps become more important than ever.

As we shift in student affairs, university administrators increasingly look to us to create, provide, and facilitate experiences in this new landscape.

Esports has been a grassroots movement of students across the nation who have formed adhoc teams and organized themselves to meet their needs. This presents a very unique opportunity to meet students on their turf and provide structure and legitimacy to this emerging sport and program.

University presidents are scrambling to launch these programs and connect them to their universities in meaningful ways as the market demand for these opportunities explodes. Schools are increasingly looking to student affairs to lead this charge. Student affairs offices will face a number of challenges in launching a fully supported and managed program. If it is done correctly, however, it will provide a structured way for all students (on campus, off campus and online) to engage in a program that can provide measurable learning outcomes and has been proven to have a positive impact on retention rates.

More and more, colleges and universities are looking for ways to not just grow but how they can sometimes even survive. In some cases, universities have even begun to eliminate tenured and tenure-track faculty, a practice described by noted futurist, Brian Alexander, as the “Queen Sacrifice”. Jeffery Docking, in his book titled Crisis in Higher Education: A Plan to Save Small Liberal Arts Colleges in America, outlines an aggressive approach that he claims will not just provide a bump in enrollment, but can create a significant initial gain. His main argument is that students are increasingly making choices about which college they should attend based on what extra or co-curricular programs they can participate in. We have seen exponential growth in the variety of options students have as colleges are scrambling to play catch up. Institutions are constantly adding more programs to attract new students and provide a compelling reason to keep students from leaving or transferring out.

The addition of student life programs, like esports, comes at a cost and a college needs to critically examine each option fully before making the leap. If done properly and with the right support from the administration, those colleges can move from surviving to thriving.

Esports can be a great choice for colleges and universities looking to expand services for students, but to be successful schools need to critically examine several questions before embarking on this task.

1. Why is your school interested in esports?
2. What current students are involved in esports?
3. Is esports right for your school?
6. Can you recruit students successfully to esports?
7. Can you create a reasonable competition schedule?
8. Does your school have the financial wherewithal to build a successful program?
9. What would be an estimate of both the start-up and on-going costs associated with esports?
10. What is your projected return on investment (ROI) for Esports?

If you’re serious about esports,
I would offer three suggestions:

First, form a committee to really dig into answering these questions. Make sure that you have students who currently engage in gaming on campus that participate in this process – this is critical to its success. I would also suggest having a member of your technology staff (IT) on the committee as they will be able to help answer questions you have not thought of, and if they are involved early on in this process, they will be more likely to be willing to help when you really need them.

Second, take your time and cover each base. We tend to want to jump into these things head first. There are a few steps and that you may take along the way here that can cost you a great deal of time and money. You want to have a solid plan in place and broad buy-in from your community.

Third, get help. There are many resources out there to help schools start programs and complete feasibility studies specific to your campus. The time and money you save by having an expert come in and help you set up a program the right way will pay off.

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