eSports is currently experiencing unprecedented growth. Games like Call of Duty, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have become international spectator sports, drawing in millions of concurrent viewers. Needless to say, eSports are here to stay, and the scene is just going to get bigger and bigger.
In the last year alone, universities across the United States have announced new eSports programs along, collaborating with gaming studios like Blizzard for collegiate leagues in games like Heroes of the Storm. This weekend, the Heroes of the Dorm finals will take place and be covered live on ESPN.
Companies like KontrolFreek are at the forefront of eSports, having produced many of the gaming hardware peripherals and accessories like the professional-grade grips used by professional gamers on their gamepads. They’ve also announced a first-of-its-kind collegiate eSports scholarship. It’s the only one in the industry available to all types of student gamers and is based entirely off of merit, rather than competition.
I had the opportunity to get in touch with KontrolFreek CEO Ashish Mistry to talk about the program.
Why did KontrolFreek decide to start an eSports scholarship program?
Mistry: KontrolFreek has been a supporter of eSports since we were founded in 2009, and we felt that while eSports on the whole was on the rise, structured collegiate programs were nascent at best. We felt our approach could drive additional awareness and validation to the market, and draw in student athletes that care as much about being well-rounded as they do about winning.
What other programs are available for eSports players right now?
Mistry: Before the KontrolFreek program, there were only two types of scholarships available: a grant tied to a university eSports team, or a typical prize pool that players could win in tournaments such as Heroes of the Dorm. So, nothing agnostic or independent existed.
How is KontrolFreek’s scholarship program different from what’s currently available?
Mistry: Unlike other scholarships currently available, KontrolFreek’s program is publisher agnostic. This means that players can compete on any game to be eligible. Many programs just focus on League of Legends, but there are strong programs out there for games like Hearthstone or DOTA2. Those players are getting skipped over for other scholarships simply because they’re not playing a specific game.
Also, to win existing scholarship prizes in tournaments, you have to beat out hundreds of other student gamers. We’re of the mind that gamers can contribute to the industry and to society even if they’re not one of the top five players in the country. What about top 10? Or 50? Our scholarship looks at a variety of factors, like GPA and work experience, so we’re really looking for well-rounded students, not just for a player that can win at one specific game.
Can you tell me a little bit about the current state of collegiate eSports?
Mistry: Right now the collegiate eSports industry is still in its infancy. Even compared to professional eSports, which is only just gaining mainstream attention, college level gaming competitions are relatively new. We’ve only started to see traction at the college level in the past few years, specifically with Robert Morris University creating a League of Legends scholarship.
That said, organizations, like Collegiate Star League or TeSPA, are gaining new teams and players constantly. College players are starting to see opportunities to compete, and brands will also begin to see that this is a growth area with huge potential.
Will the scholarship continue into next year?
Mistry: Our plan is to continue support of the scholarship into next year and beyond. Based on the traction we’ve seen so far, there is a lot of demand and qualified gamers. Within the first week nearly 100 students had already registered to apply. In addition, we’ve already begun to explore international expansion of the program.
Who is eligible for the scholarship?
Mistry: Essentially, any gamer officially competing on behalf of their university or college at an undergraduate level is eligible. We are accepting applications from students playing all types of games at any accredited university, we just ask that gamers can prove that they are affiliated with the college – but this could be through a club charter or a faculty advisor. We wanted to make this scholarship as broad as possible, and we can’t wait to see the mix of people that represent their schools in the gaming space.