Mountain West Conference Expands Into the Growing eSports World

Boise State’s Hearthstone team advances to eSports National Championship Tournament. (Photo: @eSportsBSU)

For some people reading this, you may not even know what an “eSport” is. If you don’t, then don’t worry, you aren’t alone. However, you may also well be missing out on one of the next “big things” in entertainment.

The video game industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in the world for years. While once considered by some to be a hobby only enjoyed by the stereotypical nerd that lives in their mom’s basement, it has entered the mainstream in a big way in recent years. Here are a few facts that may surprise you. Did you know that the gaming industry generated over $108 billion in worldwide revenue in 2017 with the United States alone representing $36 billion of that total, which was a growth of 18% from the previous year? For comparison, the movie industry had worldwide total box office revenue of $40.6 billion with a growth of less than 5%.

At this point some people are probably wondering to themselves, “Okay, I get it that’s a lot of money. It’s big and growing fast, but what does it have to do with the Mountain West Conference?”

The answer is that when there’s a big pile of money people will often try to both A) get some of it for themselves and B) make it bigger.

That is where the world of ESports comes in and Boise State’s own Dr. Bob Kustra is already out in front of it. For those who are unaware, eSports itself is fast becoming a big business in its own right with revenues already topping one billion dollars. It has grown so big in fact that some eSports tournaments have more people watching them than the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals combined. Corporate sponsors have predictably taken notice. Many people are already aware of the rapidly declining ESPN subscribership along with the corresponding decline in the ratings for college football. With that happening, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Mountain West Conference is dipping their toe into eSports as a possible new market for the future and perhaps even a new source of revenue. In March, lost in the shuffle of basketball season, the conference had its first ever eSports tournament featuring teams from Boise State and UNLV. UNLV ultimately prevailed in the competition by taking two out of the three events but Boise State certainly seems to be willing to invest in the future of eSports on their campus.

“Boise State University eSports is the first varsity competitive gaming team sponsored by a Mountain West institution. The program hosts nearly 60 varsity student e-athletes competing in five game titles. An additional 240 students compete for the school at the club level in other game titles. Boise State is building the largest gaming facility in college eSports with a 100-seat Battleground training center, broadcast facility, and spectator arena for live weekly matches.”

Nor is the Mountain West Conference alone in exploring the potential of this fast growing market. While BSU is one of a small number of Div 1 schools who field a varsity team, the MWC is not the only one taking notice of the potential. The Big-10 broadcast its own first intra-conference tournament on its highly successful Big-10 Network last year which was won by Maryland.

So far, at the college level, there has not been a great deal of money to be made off of eSports. But if human history has taught us anything it is that if people are willing to pay to see something, it is likely that someone will find a way to sell it to them. Dr. Kustra was a visionary during his tenure as leader of the university.
A decade from now will his early investment in e-athletes lead to new buildings on campus being financed by money brought on by the thriving eSports varsity team and the widespread viewership it sells to the general public? It could be an unusual final feather in the cap of the 74 year old former president and an interesting legacy to hand down to a newer, presumably younger, university leader.

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