Esports programs: 10 startup steps to know

For higher ed leaders considering esports, research, buy-in, budget and tech are key
Kelly Walsh is CIO of The College of Westchester in New York.
Kelly Walsh is CIO of The College of Westchester in New York.

Esports is on a growth path at our colleges and universities, and even in our K-12 school districts. If your higher education institution is thinking about launching a program, here are some key considerations to explore and plan for. Keep in mind that even small institutions can tackle an esports program by starting small and expanding.

  1. Do your research: Administrators must understand competitive multiplayer video gaming and be able to explain to stakeholders why a program launch could be successful. The free UB Guide to Esports is a great place to start. 
  2. Get buy-in, and assign or hire a coach or program director: Someone needs to be at the helm of the effort. If you are starting small, you may be able to have a volunteer coach oversee it. Later, you can hire a full-time program director and other related positions, but the effort is not going to get off the ground unless someone is in charge and has executive support.

    Read: UBTV: How esports electrifies higher education

  3. Look into computers and peripherals: What sorts of computers do you need to run games on? You will definitely want to consult with computer equipment experts and gamers to spec out the right devices. But the simple answer is: high end, with lots of memory and powerful graphics processors. And since technology keeps improving, it is a good idea to look for computers that allow for upgrades. That is one of several reasons desktop models are preferable to laptops. A quality display and specialized mouse are also essential.

    Read: 2 models for powering your esports program

  4. Consider gaming chairs: Good quality, adjustable-height office chairs can work, and you can probably start with them, but some gamers will swear by pricey gaming chairs. As your program expands, consider making the switch.

  5. Review potential accommodations: This is where things can get quite expensive. But for those interested in starting small, one can designate and set up a room that will serve as both a practice facility and a space for team play. With luck, you will outgrow it, and this initial space can remain a fully functional practice room.
  6. Set a budget: All of the above point to the need for funds. At a minimum, you’ll need to get quotes for gaming computers and peripherals and chairs; identify the room or facility to be used; and then develop a budget for preparing that space and procuring the equipment. The UB Guide to Esports offers example budgets. The low-end or entry-level example is about $44,000, which would accommodate two dozen players, but a very small college could probably start with half of that. It is also worth noting that as programs grow, colleges and universities have been able to offset costs with merchandising, advertising partnerships and sponsorships, for instance.

    Read: How higher ed is shaping the business of esports

    As for the cost of the games, many gamers will have their own licenses for popular games and you may be able to start that way, but eventually, higher ed institutions may wish to procure licensing for their teams to provide more control and ensure availability.

  7. Select esports titles: Consider the longevity of the franchise. You may want to select a title that has been around for a while, and looks to have a long life ahead of it, to help ensure the long-term viability of an esports effort. Also consider acceptable levels of violence and/or suggestiveness. Will stakeholders at your institution be comfortable with the options? Many games use ratings such as “Everyone” or “Teen,” set by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which you can review. Current popular titles include League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Rocket League.

    Read: How higher ed is shaping the business of esports

  8. Set up gaming guidelines: Writing up guidelines so that students know what to expect if they join an esports team at your school will set clear expectations regarding academics, behavior, etc.—and help with recruitment.

  9. Recruit gamers: Chances are you already have plenty of gamers on campus; you just need to get the word out. As esports programs grow, many schools recruit gamers with scholarships, too.

    Read: UB Tech 2020 to feature esports sessions by NAECAD

  10. Think about joining a collegiate league: Once you have the above needs in place and have gained some experience with esports, it is a good idea to consider joining a collegiate esports league. The leagues can provide access to resources and communities of gamers, and offer benefits that can help with recruitment. There are several leagues out there, including Tespa, Collegiate Starleague and College League of Legends.

Kelly Walsh is CIO of The College of Westchester in New York. 

Click here for more coverage on esports.

Interested in esports? Keep up with LRP’s Academic Esports Conference and Expo.

Three LRP shows cover esports: FETC®, UB Tech® and the newly launched Academic Esports Conference and Expo, to be held this October in Chicago. For more information about the Academic Esports Conference and Expo, contact Program Chair Chris Burt at [email protected].

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