A League of Our Own


By Kelvin Tran

Halloween Night at The Hive, a bar and grill in downtown Toronto for gaming and eSports. Photo by Kelvin Tran

A couple of years ago, playing video games in school would have been inconceivable. Now it is considered normal, a part of education by both students and teachers. 

Colleges in the OCAA are forming their own eSports teams and hosting their own tournaments. Humber, St. Clair, Lambton, Durham, Fanshawe, Sheridan, and recently Niagara College have all created eSports clubs for various competitive games. Lambton College opened its own Esports Arena in 2017, followed by Durham College in 2018.

ESports is getting bigger and bigger each year with no signs of stopping, with around 221 million viewers as of March 2019 according to the Esports Charts website. Intel, a company specializing in computer technology, is hosting a World Open Esports Tournament as a lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

It might become an official varsity sport under the OCAA, which may help aspiring professional gamers on the collegiate level. 

Some colleges now have programs dedicated specifically to eSports. One example is Lambton’s two-year Esports Entrepreneurship and Administration diploma program.

“It is the first comprehensive eSports management program in North America. We’re the first ones to do it,” says Matthew Hutchinson, the Program Coordinator of the Esports Entrepreneurship and Administration program. 

He says, St. Clair and other colleges in Canada are working toward developing a similar program. There are also a couple of universities in the United States who are working on their own programs. 

“So, it’s very cool that we’re the first ones and it’s also very cool that other schools are now also following that trend,” he says.

The program is closely tied with Lambton’s Esports teams, as they make up about 60 to 70 per cent of the students enrolled. 

“They absolutely work in the program and they also fulfill responsibilities on respective teams too,” says Hutchinson. “If they are a player, then we do offer opportunities for our students to be team manager, or to be a team analyst, or to help with social media, or to help with our Twitch channel in livestreaming our competition and building content.“ Organizing events and buying the equipment is not cheap however, competitive gaming requires expensive equipment including computers, game consoles, TVs, video games, chairs, headsets, and other kinds of specialized paraphernalia. The money comes from various sources such as student unions, the college, or sponsors.

“The funding for the eSports programs came from Durham College as well as a large portion of equipment was donated from our sponsors Lenovo and Monster Energy,” says Sarah Wagg, manager of the Durham Esports Arena. 

Sometimes it is paid by the students themselves and other supporters of eSports. 

“Funny enough, a lot of it is paid out of my pocket or my COO’s (Chief operating officer) pocket. We rely on the community to bring us consoles, so it’s a lot of community driven stuff. A lot of people are really hyped about eSports and are really, really invested in it,” says Haris Rehan, President of Sheridan Esports.

“It’s the first comprehensive ESPORTS management program in North America.”

Opinions vary on whether or not eSports will become an official varsity sport in the OCAA.

“There is, but we are also mindful of the fact that when you do enter into a governing organization like the NCAA or like the OCAA. What that leads to is a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of legislation around schools or the players as student athletes,” says Hutchinson.

He says right now the advantage that they have, by not having a governing body, is that this is an opportunity for athletes to compete for prize money in a collegiate organization while also obtaining an education. If they win, the athletes get to keep the prize money. There is no government body to give a cut to. 

“As of right now, we have no plans for form an eSports league with other colleges. The nature of eSports makes creating a league difficult since there’s many titles to choose from. As of right now, our plans are to field a strong team in all the games we support and compete in other collegiate tournaments throughout the year,” says Matthew D’Angelo, Operations Officer at Sheridan Esports.

“Our goal is to build a prime example of what a collegiate eSports organization should function like including building individual students brands up to help them becomes professionals,” he says.

However, there are eSports leagues that already exist at the collegiate level, one such league is College League of Legends, created by Riot Games. 

“Trying to create our own OCAA eSports varsity sport is kinda weird because these eSports leagues already exist and the big ones that the majority of the competitive player base at the collegiate level participate in, they already play in collegiate leagues that are supported and funded by those publishers and developers that made that game,” says Rehan.

He says if the OCAA really wants to make it into a varsity sport, it will have to wait until all participating colleges are at the same level with their eSports programs. 

“The OCAA can help, if they really want to get into making it a varsity sport,” says Rehan. “I think it is less about us getting together because each eSports program is at a different level. If you compare us to Durham, Durham is definitely ahead of us because they started the process earlier than we did.”

Dedicated gaming spaces are becoming more commonplace as eSports grows within the mainstream, both in industry and media. Photo by Kelvin Tran

He also says each program will need an academic portion to it, a dedicated training facility for players to practice, having secure funding, some level of content creation, and many other elements that must exist in order to succeed. 

“It’s more of a process that will take a very long time, but it’s a process that’s going to change the North American culture of eSports,” says Rehan. “You know how many people, like the older generations, look at gamers as people who sit in their basements, who don’t do anything but play games, with no real benefit to it. However, people who play games as gamers know there is real benefit, there’s a lot of community, we’re not introverts who sit inside. We go to college, talk about eSports, play games, have a great time, and people are competitive and super talented.”

He says, it will be a couple years before all the colleges are on the same level before they can sit down and create a league. But it will also depend on cooperating with the OCAA to make it happen, and there needs to be some incentive for college students to play in their league rather than the ones that already exist.

“Content creation, the ability to brand players, is extremely important because that’s where the eSports industry is headed,” says Rehan. 

“It’s less about competition, but who you are as a player and what your narrative is. That’s how you push your brand and that’s where teams make money essentially, to brand their players.”