By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
When thinking of competitive college activities, sports usually comes to mind.
But Northwest College is looking to increase its enrollment by offering a new sanctioned competitive program — video gaming.
According to a report by Goldman Sachs, Esports — or competitive video gaming — is more popular now than major league baseball. Entire stadiums are being constructed to lure fans and gamers to the booming billion-dollar industry.
Brian Erickson, athletic director for Northwest College, said the college is banking on the popularity of Esports to boost enrollment numbers.
“What do college kids do these days? They’re not throwing a frisbee, they’re not throwing the football anymore,” he said. “What are they doing on their time off? Well, they’re in their room and they’re gaming. So let’s get them out of their rooms, let’s get them in this facility gaming with each other, to give them a different interaction.”
Erickson said he was able to apply for a grant through Northwest’s college foundation to begin funding the activity, which he said won’t be very expensive compared to other sports.
“It will really only cost about $10,000 a year to run the whole thing,” he said, “and we’re already out there trying to get sponsors.”
He said Northwest is the first Wyoming school to offer e-sports as a sanctioned activity.
Once established, NWC players will be competing in Powell against teams from all over the country. For example, if they play against a team from Florida, NWC competitors would be playing from Powell and Florida players would be playing from their campus.
Erickson said a group formed for college e-gaming, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, has 178 teams as members, with competitors playing 15 different games.
When NWC’s program is up and running, its students will play regional and national teams.
“League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite are the ones we’ll probably start with,” Erickson said.
Erickson said the program is just getting off the ground, starting with a “club” for the existing players this spring. The college will then recruit for a full Esports program for the fall semester.
“We’ve got to do a really good job of marketing, that Northwest College has an Esports team,” he said.
Erickson explained that the NACE has recruiting websites where potential students can log in and upload their profiles. He said there could be international students interested in attending Northwest College to game.
Before they begin, though, there are logistics to be tackled.
“We’re moving forward with the facility right now,” he said, spreading his arms inside a large empty room in one of the classroom buildings on the NWC campus. “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the Internet connection that can run these games, then get the computers.”
Erickson said the school is looking to recruit 30 to 40 new students going into next year. If the recruiting drive is successful, he said it would halt the downward trend in enrollment the college has seen over the last few years.
He added NWC hopes to have scholarship money available for potential students in the next three or four years.
“One of our missions for the college is to retain and recruit,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our students here, and get our enrollment numbers back up.”