Northwestern has recently considered adding a number of sports to the current lineup, including men’s volleyball, bowling and lacrosse. What most students may not realize is that NW has also been considering adding E-sports.
For those who have been staying up-to-date with the E-sports scene, this is to be expected. Professional video game leagues have been gaining popularity throuhgout the last couple of years.
“Rocket League,” a game best described as 3-on-3 soccer played by rocket-powered cars, held its world championships last weekend with a $1 million prize pot. Meanwhile, League of Legends’ recent world championship had a $2.25 million prize pot and, according to esc.watch, averaged 46.7 million worldwide viewers.
To put this statistic into perspective, there were 103.4 million U.S. viewers for the 2018 Super Bowl, according to statista.com. With the growing popularity of professional E-sports, it is no surprise colleges have been adding it as a varsity sport.
The games NW is considering as possible options are “League of Legends,” “Hearthstone,” “Smite,” “Paladins” and “Overwatch.” According to Earl Woudstra, NW’s athletic director, “League of Legends” and “Hearthstone” would have spring seasons while the rest of the games would be fall sports. “League of Legends” is the most popular professional and collegiate E-sport.
According to ESPN.com, there were 36 NAIA schools offering E-sports as a varsity sport in March of this year, and that number has only grown. Despite the adoption of E-sports by other schools, NW does have some serious concerns.
When asked about the unique obstacles created by E-sports, Woudstra commented, “The most common questions that have been raised have related to the violent nature of some video games, objectification of women and potential for addictive behavior.”
Unfortunately, the majority of video games do seem to contain violence and the objectification of women. Of the five games NW is considering, “Hearthstone” is the only one that could be considered non-violent.
“Hearthstone” is essentially an online card game where the user can customize his or her deck and then battle other players, similar to an online version of the card game “Yu-Gi-Oh.”
While a card game may seem harmless, some cards depict violent images and a few cards contain images that objectify female characters.
League of Legends, Smite, Paladins, and Overwatch, a variety of third- and first-person shooters, face similar problems with violence and the objectification of women.
While some of these games may be problematic, it is important to remember NW is not limited to these games. NW could offer any number of these games or none of them. One potential solution mentioned by Woudstra would be avoiding first-person shooter games. Games like League of Legends, a two-dimensional third-person shooter, provide more of an arcade feel and less realistic violence. There are also other games that do not contain violence or the objectification of women. As E-sports becomes more common, games like FIFA (soccer), Madden (football), and 2K (basketball) will definitely find their way into college athletics.
NW still has a lot to consider when it comes to E-sports, but it is exciting to see the athletic department’s willingness to consider a non-traditional sport. As more and more schools add E-sports, NW has to decide if it wants to join in on the fun early or wait to see if E-sports becomes a crucial addition to college athletic departments.