Posted on Thursday, March 14, 2019

Martinsville (population just over 13,000) is Virginia’s newest hotspot for competitive video gaming. Patrick Henry Community College says it’s starting an eSports club team in the current semester and plans to offer PC gaming as a varsity sport by this coming fall.

“eSports has emerged as a major competitive event at the collegiate level,” PHCC Athletic Director Brian Henderson said. “We want to offer our students an opportunity to actively engage in this emerging field.”

“Emerging field” is an understatement. The global eSports economy, which includes media rights, advertising, sponsorships, merchandising, ticket sales and gaming publisher fees, is growing fast. Tech marketing research firm Newzoo estimates global revenues from gaming in 2019 at $1.1 Billion, and predicts 645 million people worldwide will be occasional viewers or full-on gaming enthusiasts by 2022.

PHCC reports that some of the initial members of its eSports team already have been offered scholarships from universities and invitations to join professional teams. And when Patrick Henry invited interested students to a recent open house at its new state-of-the-art gaming facility, the event attracted high school students who said they were interested in attending PHCC because of the eSports program there.

Northern Virginia Community College lays claim to competitive gaming leadership among all colleges in the Old Dominion, creating its varsity eSports team in June of 2018.

“The eSports program at NOVA offers exciting new opportunities for students to get involved in the growing eSports industry,” said Chris Gaul, director of NOVA’s eSports programs. “Our teams are competing at some of the highest levels of play.”

NOVA plays at a newly-created eSports Arena, located on its Annandale Campus.

Roughly 350 miles southwest of Annandale, gaming enthusiasts formed an eSports club team at Southwest Virginia Community College in fall of 2018, and SWCC Athletic Director Jason Vencil argues that students in rural areas can be competitive in eSports.

“As long as a stable internet connection is available, gamers can test their skills at all levels, and the level of competition isn’t limited to where they are geographically,” said Vencil.

“We’re currently averaging around two tournaments per semester, and have around 20 members who are active on the roster.”

Another pop culture footnote: major figures in the entertainment industry, in particular hip-hop performers are eager to align their star power with major eSports players and big gaming festivals.

Editor’s note: If all this seems like just too much to take in, Google “eSports beginner’s guides”.

jbabb@vccs.edu'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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