USF eSports players Working to Enter Division I

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Students at USF are working with athletics on forming an eSports team with aspirations to become Division I within NCAA. WILLIAM WIN/FOGHORN

Ever wondered if playing video games could be considered a sport? One group of USF students think so.

USF Dons eSports, an unofficial club of 25 students at USF, is discussing the possibility of becoming a Division I athletics team with the USF Athletics Department.  

Although the club is “just getting off the ground” according to graduate student Bati “West” Ozcan, the president the club, these gamers playing Overwatch and League of Legends competitively against other collegiate teams has high hopes.

Frank Allocco, senior athletics director for external relations, agrees with Ozcan that eSports has potential to be an addition to USF Athletics. “On a personal level, I would support that,” Allocco said. “Anything to allow students to display skill is a positive [thing]. I have a broader definition of what ‘sport’ is.”  

There are 15 universities in the U.S. which have Division I eSports teams under the National Association of Collegiate eSports. Allocco believes that an eSports program would be a potential revenue stream for USF as well as boost admissions and student engagement with the athletics department.  

Currently, the NCAA is still considering whether to officially incorporate online gaming into their association.

Although there is no data regarding the University’s student interest in eSports, Robert Ishida, a graduate student and the coach of the club, plans to create a survey to gauge student interest in participating in eSports or attending tournaments.

While the club has yet to file its paperwork to become a club, they already have nominees lined up to fill club leadership roles. They still need to make a constitution, which state’s the club’s overall goals and intentions.

In the meantime, USF Dons eSports have been holding scrimmages, commonly referred to as “scrims” by eSports athletes, around campus in order to practice for future tournaments.

The club has been holding practice games with eSports teams from other universities, although the team members don’t necessarily meet in-person when they practice.

Ozcan also hopes to hold events around campus to promote eSports, including a symposium in April to discuss career opportunities in eSports and the growing popularity of the activity. Ozcan also has a goal of establishing a permanent practice area reserved for eSports players in the new Sobrato Center, which is currently in the design phase. Alloco said he’s heard the request, but that the “architecture [for the space] is very preliminary.”

With support from administration in the athletics department, eSport players have been able to use USF’s athletics spaces free of charge, a privilege not extended to other clubs. Events held since last December include a Local Area Network (LAN) party — where people gather in a room together to play online multiplayer games — as well as a tournament in January for the basketball video game NBA 2K19.

Although USF Dons eSports has received support from the athletics department, it is not certain that Ozcan’s new club can become a Division I sport at USF — at least not right now. Allocco expressed concern about the lack of Division I eSports teams. “We can make a Division I team, but who would they play?”

Unfettered by skepticism from the NCAA, players are encouraged by projected growth in eSports, with global revenue expected to exceed $1.1 billion this year, and $1.6 billion by 2021, according to Statista, which conducts business intelligence and market research.  

“[The NCAA] are talking about it,” Allocco said. “I do think they’re starting to see what’s happening around them, and there’s definitely some interest,” Allocco said.

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