Esports students at Southern NH University. Courtesy photo.
College football is still a huge economic engine for colleges and universities, but two NH institutions are investing in esports as the wave of the future. Southern NH University (SNHU) in Hooksett and New England College in Henniker are the first to launch esports programs in the state.
Across the country, student teams gather in high-tech arenas to test their skills against one another playing Fortnite, Overwatch and League of Legends. Colleges say the strategy and teamwork students must use in the games build real-world skills that can better inform students who take game design courses.
SNHU Program Director and Head Coach Tim Fowler says competitive multiplayer gaming as a school sport has really started to gain ground in the past few years and now schools are investing more in esports programs. In September, SNHU completed dorm renovations, adding a gaming suite in Hampton Hall outfitted with the latest in gaming furniture, screens and high-speed internet access for the first group of students living in the gaming-themed community.
Fowler says SNHU is treating esports as a varsity sport and will begin offering gaming scholarships to students next year. It even has a junior varsity team for up-and-coming players. Fowler is also working with the school to designate space on campus for the team to meet, practice and review game footage.
New England College is building an e-sports arena at its Henniker campus, which will feature a competition and practice setting. Tyrelle Appleton (pictured), head coach and program director at New England College, is a former national competitor who has been playing video games since the age of 5.
“I want to make New England College the epicenter of esports in New Hampshire. I am starting that now, building it from the ground up. This place will be like walking into Area 51,” he says. “High-tech fun with a lot of sauce.”
Appleton says the backbone of New England College’s gaming technology is Dell’s Alienware platform, the most popular gaming system in the world, and offered at only a handful of colleges. “We have a platform that will change the level of the playing field and change the college experience for students. It allows them to get skills in areas they normally wouldn’t.” He says students will also learn branding, connections and professionalism.
Both schools are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), which includes more than 100 institutions across the U.S. According to Fowler, membership was a requirement to win approval for the esports program at SNHU. “It is a very good thing, since the schools must adopt NACE standards, must have a dedicated coach, and offer scholarships,” he says.
Fowler says practices are structured and involve all manner of teamwork. In one of the popular games, Overwatch, they run plays similar to football. “One of the things I do most is scrutinize the language we use when we are communicating,” he says
And esports has a rabid fan base already. Spectators can watch on streaming networks such as Twitch, or in a campus gaming lounge.
Students drawn to the esports program come from a variety of majors, although Fowler says it can skew toward the STEM disciplines. His team is all male, but he has some women at JV level. Appleton has a gender mix of applicants for his program that will start in January.
New England College’s esports is also being tied into the school’s graphic arts and technology programs for those who want to use this as a foundation to enter the workforce by learning game theory and development.