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The University of Kentucky is just the latest in a long line of college admissions that have unveiled their official college team: in eSports. That might come as a surprise to some people, considering the NCAA took a vote in 2019 and decided that they were not, in fact, going to take eSports under their wing. That hasn’t stopped over 100 colleges across the country from forming their own eSports teams and competing, the latest of which is the University of Kentucky.

So, is eSports about to be the biggest sport in the NCAA’s repertoire? What was holding back the NCAA back in 2019? And has anything changed? We are exploring the merger of eSports and the NCAA here.


Are eSports a sport?

We’ve come down to the argument of the day: are eSports a sport?

Well, that is the debate. Some people simply look at a kid at a computer screen and say something thoughtless like “Does me doing my taxes count as a sport then?”. And ultimately that’s the argument: that because there is much less physical exertion than sports like football or basketball, it’s simply not a sport.

But let’s look at what it takes for a sport to be embraced by the NCAA. We can pretend it's about the drive to create more and more skilled athletes or to promote the sport, but everything is about money. The colleges hand out sponsorships to athletes to boost their own profile because that will gain more money, either from investors to the company that is the college, or from the fans that put into the college teams.

For the NCAA’s purposes, eSports should be a goldmine. Daily fantasy sports betting has been legalized in a lot of states due to the fact that it is considered a game of skill. Video gamers playing battle royale or sim sports games have simply taken that concept and put it on a screen. It does take skill to win. Sure, it doesn’t take much physical athleticism, but neither does chess, poker, and curling. In fact, it could open up a new sport to the Paralympics. And, thinking in terms of college teams, there are arguments in favor of calling debate teams and spelling bees a sport.

And finally, it’s making money. A lot of money. Global eSports was a $1.1 billion industry in 2020. But you don’t need the stats to see that. Investors are flying players out on private jets to competitions around the world, to stadiums that are filled with fans and could rival a WWE event.

Why wouldn’t colleges want a piece of that pie?

What does the NCAA think of eSports?

Not much apparently. The NCAA unanimously voted in 2019 against the idea of taking esports under its governance, adding to the argument of whether or not eSports are sports.

There were two main concerns for this, according to a press release at the time. The first being that video games were considered predominantly played by males, making for some Title IX complications, and the unfavorable nature of some of the more violent games going against the image of the NCAA.

Interesting but quite out of touch reasons to reject the idea. Women make up 45% of gamers in the US in 2021 and in 2019 that number was at 46%. Not to mention, there are male and female divisions of a lot of sports from football to tennis. Whether the genders should be split in a sport that has little to do with physical ability is another matter. The willing participants are there.

As for the violence, that is a very limited look at video games. Granted the majority of games that involve competition, like battleground games, involve violence, but so can RPG games and that’s just living out a story. Conversely, there are a lot of genres that don’t involve violence, like subgenres of RPG games and sports simulators, a lot of platform games, and creative games like Minecraft.


The NCAA might currently be regretting letting eSports pass without their say in the matter. Lockdown hit everyone hard, but it was especially crippling for public and college sports, which couldn’t publicly play or adapt in some way, especially team sports. Cancellations of entire tournaments, including the NCAA tournament, which saw an expected $375 million vanish into thin air.

Had the NCAA embraced eSports in 2019, there could have been some recuperation there. eSport players don’t need to be in a stadium that hosts the biggest music acts on its days off. In fact, they can play from their own bedroom. There was room to adapt with eSports that could have given the NCAA at least a portion of their losses back.

But no, eSports are not a sport according to the NCAA. But perhaps that view will change with time?