ESports is a growing trend around the world and has now made its way to Oxford. An increasing number of gaming teams compete in certain games for cash prizes and sponsoring opportunities. The competitions already have millions of followers all over the world, but the scene is relatively new at the collegiate level. The University of Mississippi’s team isn’t even a year old yet, but it is looking to compete in collegiate competitions right away.
Sophomore computer science major Christopher Pennison is the founder and captain of the Ole Miss eSports team. He said he created the program last January and hopes to grow it as much as possible during his time at the school.
“We are hopefully going to have at least a varsity team and up to two to three junior varsity teams behind them, all playing in competitive leagues for the same game, just at different levels,” Pennison said.
The Ole Miss eSports team is currently filling out its teams for each video game in which it plans to participate, dedicating a certain number of players to a specific game. Each competition can look different depending on the game, location and the medium in which teams actually compete.
“For now, there are two types of competitions,” Pennison said. “There are the ones we compete in online and the ones we have to physically go somewhere to attend and compete. Online tournaments are usually seasonal based or over a certain time span, while the events we attend are usually streamed live.”
More and more eSports teams are popping up at colleges as huge amounts of money are being poured into the events at the professional level. Sports Illustrated reported in February that 71 percent of eSports’ revenue comes from sponsorship deals, totaling around $350 million in investments from different companies. Coca-Cola and Red Bull are just two of the notable companies that have invested in different eSports leagues.
This rising popularity leads to one thing: opportunity. Younger audiences are increasingly viewing these tournaments, and they see an opportunity to succeed in this field in ways that traditional sports don’t allow.
This perceived opportunity is just another motivator for students at Ole Miss and around the world. Senior biochemistry major Sean Williamson said he plays competitive games online for fun, but understands the draw in professional gaming.
“I think if I could become a pro gamer, I definitely would,” Williamson said. “I don’t have the time, but the competition would be amazing at the highest level. It feels like it would be a lot easier and a lot less physical stress to get really good at a game instead of a sport.”
The Ole Miss eSports team runs preliminary tryouts in the fall, open to the public, and secondary tryouts in the spring, where people will get cut from the team. The team will compete this fall with its established team members, and will integrate the new team members as they arrive.