Universities Can’t Upgrade Networks Fast Enough as Collegiate eSports Take Off

University IT departments must take steps to bolster their campus networks as collegiate eSports become increasingly popular.

On October 19, 2014, Seoul World Cup Stadium played host to the grand finals of the fourth annual League of Legends (LoL) World Championship. In addition to the more than 40,000 spectators who ventured to the South Korean capital to witness professional gamers compete for the crown of the world’s most popular multiplayer online battle arena game, some 27 million people tuned in to watch the final match online.

For context, this level of viewership was comparable to the viewership of the 2013 BCS National College Football Championship Game (26.4 million) and Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals (26.3 million). It dwarfed the average viewership of games during both the 2013 MLB World Series (14.9 million) and the 2013 NCAA Basketball Final Four (15.7 million).

Interest in eSports has only increased in the years since, so much so that, according to Newzoo’s 2018 Global Esports Market Report, the value of the global eSports economy is set to surpass $1 billion as soon as early next year. What’s more, as Riot Games Head of North American Esports Chris Hopper points out, “These days…there are nearly 1,000 pros globally making a living off of playing League of Legends professionally, [and] we [see] player salaries continuing to rise and new player benefits (insurance, 401k, etc.).”

And while the talent pipeline for professional gaming is far more disjointed than the talent pipelines for more traditional professional sports, colleges and universities around the country have started to take a keen interest in developing their own eSports programs.


The State of Collegiate eSports

Collegiate eSports emerged in earnest in 2014, when 3,233-student Robert Morris University Illinois (RMU) established the nation’s first varsity (i.e. scholarship-sponsored) LoL team. Since then, nearly 90 institutions have hopped on the varsity eSports bandwagon, providing promising gamers with scholarships ranging in value from a couple thousand dollars to $20,000.

The majority of these institutions are small schools like RMU that can’t compete with traditional sporting powerhouses, but successful NCAA Division I schools like Boise State University, Georgia State University, and the University of Utah have started investing in eSports, as well.

In fact, earlier this year, the Big Ten Network announced a two-year partnership with Riot Games to support the next two seasons of the conference’s burgeoning LoL league. Riot will provide $35,000 of scholarship money to each of the conference’s 14 schools, giving gamers the opportunity to ply their trade sporting the colors of storied institutions like the University of Illinois and the Ohio State University.

However, to date, the most striking investments in collegiate eSports have come from schools that are attempting to attract new students by positioning themselves as innovators. For instance, over the summer, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Canton unveiled a 1,800-square-foot eSports arena replete with ergonomic gaming chairs, multicolored LED backlit keyboards and mice, and equipment lockers.

“Our arena is modeled after a professional gaming environment,” explains SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran. “The atmosphere and technology provide an overall immersive experience. It will give our students a competitive edge as they face off against rival college teams.”

The arena, which started hosting competitive matches in October, represents but the latest step in SUNY Canton’s ongoing embrace of eSports — among other things, the university has established a major in Game Design and Development and has even drafted a proposal for a major in eSports Management.


The Importance of eSports-Ready Campus Networks

If, as Szafran suggests, schools are hoping to give their student gamers a competitive edge by investing in state-of-the-art eSports facilities, they mustn’t forget the importance of the networks that are tasked with supporting all this glitz and glamor.

Games like LoL consume a great deal of bandwidth, and if a campus network isn’t properly designed and adequately provisioned, gamers are bound to struggle with in-game lag. In eSports, hesitating for even a handful of milliseconds can turn a win into a loss, meaning a school’s success hinges as much on its IT team’s ability to deliver high-throughput, low-latency connectivity as on its scholarshipped gamers’ tactical prowess.

The difficulty of providing this high level of connectivity is compounded by the fact that eSports spectatorship is defined in no small part by live streaming. Many students who attend eSports competitions expect to be able to stream the events via platforms like Amazon-owned Twitch — bandwidth-hogging activity that may impinge on student gamers’ connectivity.

For many IT teams at institutions of higher education, this responsibility will simply be too great to tackle alone. Fortunately, by partnering with a campus networking expert like Turn-key Technologies (TTI), IT teams can rest easy knowing that they will never rightfully be blamed for a photo-finish eSports loss.

With nearly three decades of experience maximizing the performance and security of school networks, TTI has the know-how necessary to help campus IT teams achieve their goals — whatever they may be. Whether a school is leading the eSports vanguard, just starting to experiment with eSports, or choosing to stay focused on good old fashioned reading, writing, and arithmetic, TTI can provide each of its students with the connectivity they need to succeed.

By Craig Badrick


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