Collegiate Esports are Much More Than a Game

Courtesy of Written by guest columnist Jake Grasso. Grasso is in his second year as assistant director of Baldwin Wallace University Sports and Recreation, specializing in esports. He was honored as the Great Lakes Esports Conference Director of the Year for 2022. 

What is esports? You could try Googling it. However, I would confidently argue that Google’s definition does not fully encapsulate the esports experience and its benefits.

I define esports as a group of people who come together in a digital space where they build important skills, such as collaboration, teamwork, communication and strategy. Esports has come to mean so much to individuals all over the world, at all different levels, with so much passion for the sport.

I got my start in esports at a time when I had no real understanding of the industry. At the time, I was a Baldwin Wallace University student who loved to compete in video games with my friends online. During my time pursuing both an undergraduate and master’s degree at BW, I wanted to be around others who shared the same interest, so I started an Esports club. That small club has since turned into a full-fledged recreation program with over 45 students and growing.

I am a gamer with a background steeped in athletics. I played three sports in high school, engaged in college football for two years and earned a master’s degree in sport management. Against that backdrop, I intimately understood the incredible value of in-person esports experiences. Gamers are often stereotyped as introverted individuals who prefer online interactions. However, team esports breaks that barrier by fostering face-to-face engagement and creating invaluable in-person connections.

This shift can profoundly impact those who may be shy or struggle with social anxiety, enabling them to grow into a version of themselves they never thought possible.

In my brief tenure in this industry -- particularly my two years as a director at BW -- I’ve witnessed students undergo incredible transformations. They’ve evolved into leaders, honed effective communication skills and developed critical thinking within a team dynamic -- all while pursuing a shared objective.

Beyond competitive play, esports offers myriad supporting roles, much like those found in traditional sports. In a world where technology reigns supreme, gaming presents a landscape with support roles that align with career opportunities in media production and live streaming, digital design and more. The inclusive nature and diverse array of roles create an environment where individuals can explore their potential and develop technical skills imperative for tomorrow’s workforce.

Esports serves as a powerful path for personal development, fostering not just gaming skills, but also enhancing adaptability, resilience, collaboration, innovation and strategic thinking -- all prized by employers. An exponentially expanding industry in high schools and colleges, esports offers new avenues for personal growth and skill development in the future.

The gamer stereotype, as depicted in movies or by people who don’t understand the benefits, paints a false picture. It is time to start embracing the positive side of esports and gaming, rather than the perceived negative outcomes.

Our BW esports program is focused on setting the standard for what it means to be a competitive esports player and teammate, committed to unity, resolve and integrity. In essence, esports represents more than just a form of entertainment; for our students, it stands as a remarkable catalyst for career skill development.

Competitive gaming also fosters a sense of meaningful belonging, uniting individuals from diverse backgrounds who cultivate essential social skills, teamwork and lasting friendships.