Every once in a while, there's a bit of news that I'll run across that causes me to do a literal double take. Today was one of those days when I saw the title, “University of California Irvine will soon offer Overwatch scholarships.” It was only once I had read the article that I realized this was not a new thing. The University of Utah already has its own esports scholarship program. The all-women's school Stephens College does too. And in the United Kingdom, Staffordshire University has an esports degree program available. Though their degree program is more focused on the business of esports, rather than the actual playing.
It's clear that there is a major shift happening within the world right now. Esports were once a laughable affair, “Wait, you play video games for a living? Excuse me while I proceed to spit take my drink.” A few years down the line, the term esports has taken on a whole new meaning. Those that participate in the tournaments held for various video games have the potential to win staggering amounts of money. Those watching from home are seeing tons of ads that are bringing in revenue for various streaming services. There's swag to be bought that is representative of the games being played, or the teams playing them. There has even been talk about adding esports to official Olympic games. The business of playing games professionally and all the surrounding businesses that have sprung up should really be taken seriously. We're not talking about small amounts of money and a handful of friends meeting up to take friendly bets anymore.
Even still, one has to wonder where the line in the sand should be drawn. We're now talking about sending students to college and having them focus very intently on professional video gaming. Think of all the people you knew in high school who wanted to become professional sports players. There's just too many people wanting to do it and not enough pro sports team slots available to fill. So many young adults devote their college life to something that they won't be able to pursue for whatever reasons. By opening up these scholarships for esports we're doing something similar.
The Overwatch program available from the University of California Irvine doesn't limit students to relevant degrees. You can go after whatever major/minor combination your little heart desires. But, and this is a big but, you have to devote 15-20 hours a week to your esports career. This means training sessions, team meetings, actual tournaments, community service, and other related projects. That's the minimum amount of time I was working a job while I was in college. And that job made similar money per month to what the University of California is offering Overwatch scholarship students per year. All of the extracurricular time you spend on esports will only net you $2500 a year. This is meant to help cover tuition fees and other costs. I don't know about you dear readers, but my schooling cost at least $6K a year, and I went to a small state school.
Sure, it's a bit early to be criticizing. Maybe this amount will go up in the future as the Overwatch scholarship program becomes more utilized. Maybe Blizzard will even throw in some cash to make the program more appealing to applicants. But for right now, it's ridiculous to ask students to devote that much time for so little financial assistance. It's really unfortunate too, because a lot of potential applicants are going to see it as a golden opportunity. “I want to go to college, but I also want to be a professional gamer. This way I can do what I was going to do anyway and get paid for it!” When they get close to graduating though, and realize the crippling amount of debt they have to pay back due to not making enough money to cover tuition, they're f#%ked (pardon my French).
These scholarships probably already seem like a beacon of light to some young minds, but they really need to think critically. Esports are popular right now, yes. That's absolutely undeniable, but that might not be the truth when you're in your 40's. Then what do you do? You'd probably have to go back to school for a different degree and rack up even more debt. It's great that colleges want to get with the times, but students need to beware, and think about their future before they make rash decisions.
The University of California Irvine did state that they will have coaches, analysts, trainers, and psychologists on hand to help Overwatch scholarship students. I only hope that they will give students a dose of reality in their fantasies. We shouldn't constantly puff people up with false hopes, but rather grains of reality salt. I was told that if I went to college I'd get a job easily. That simply wasn't true. My college didn't have much of a work placement program, and I've since relied on networking and good old fashioned hard work to get my positions.
How do you feel about the University of California Irvine's Overwatch scholarships? Is it something that you plan to go after yourself? Or do you know someone that will? Do you think we need to be careful with eSports going forward, and not put too many eggs in that basket? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments as always!