Discussing The Past, Present And Future Of College E-Sports With Blizzard’s Adam Rosen

We know that eSports are becoming a global phenomenon, but underneath all of the sexy stories involving a few, superstar teams raking in cash on the professional circuit, there’s a true “amateur” scene developing on college campuses across the nation. This isn’t just a few gaming clubs making a name for themselves amidst the tough competition.

Blizzard, the company behind Overwatch, Starcraft and Hearthstone are going all-in with Heroes of the Dorm, a March-Madness style tournament in which dozens of major colleges pit their best to win their entire college tuition in Blizzard’s MOBA, Heroes of the Storm.

With the high stakes competition comes drama, but eSports are still growing from a niche within a niche. Gaming has had a negative stigma for years, yet the rapid growth and acceptance of gaming on Twitch and YouTube has led to an understanding of gaming culture and its sporting aspect. Now, Blizzard is laying the groundwork for their eSports to not only dominate their peers in the gaming industry, but to lay the develop a sporting culture in schools as a way for students to represent their schools and possibly move up to the big leagues.

So how do you create a sport, develop a league, get hundreds of schools involved, market it, keep the sport pure and maintain growth from its genesis to a point in which its an accepted, major sports league? We spoke to Blizzard’s Adam Rosen, a forefather of eSports and the lead man behind Blizzard’s college scene.

If you told someone ten years ago that pro franchises were being founded and you we’re going to have major colleges involved in a national eSports March Madness tournament, I don’t think anyone really would have believed you. So where are you going to see this going ten years from now?

First of all, I totally agree nobody would believe that ten years ago. I think all of us had a hope that it would get there, but I don’t know if any of us even believed it at that point either. Ten years from now, where is college e-sports going to be? I think if we look at it, there’s probably a couple different angles that we will see evolve over the next ten years. One, I think is the university level. Right now we’re starting through programs like Heroes of the Dorm to see colleges themselves, the university leadership, really start to get behind their teams, start to support them. We’ve had some universities create training facilities on campus, and hire coaches.

We’ve seen some other universities start to scholarship their students full time for playing on their e-sports teams. I think, when we look in we’re going to see a really, really healthy e-sport system at the university level, much like we see with traditional sports where I think not only will universities be providing facilities, and scholarships, and coaches, and all that good stuff that you need to have a successful team, I think we’re also going to see the teams promoted on a lane that’s on par with sports teams like for example football, or basketball team. I think we’re also, really importantly going to see an ecosystem where high school students are sometimes selecting their universities based off their eSports program, and high school students are getting scholarships to go to universities based on their e-sports skills, and I think when we look ten years out, that foundation within the colligate level will link to things, I think, across the eSports ecosystem where just like where traditional sports are such an essential part of the college experience today, I think we’re going to see that with e-sports as well.

Obviously, Blizzard has a lot to do with this, and I’m assuming you had to approach these colleges and say “look, this is becoming much bigger, and there is not only a market here, but the kids want to do this”. Did you personally have to pitch colleges on these tournaments and these communities growing and the clubs, and did they go cross-eyed when you pitched them?

You know it’s really interesting. There’s a couple of different angels there. I think, when we look at college eSports, we look at it from two sides. We look at it from the both community side, but also from the competitive side, so on the community side, we run an organization called Tespa which is, essentially you can think of it kind of like a fraternity for gaming or for e-Sports where we have 220 chapters across North America, where students on their campuses are hosting really big events growing communities. Essentially, doing these great activities around these sports on their campus for the students on their campuses, and I think through that we’ve seen a lot of universities take note, and want to get involved with that because they see the really cool thing that their students are doing, but also see that this is really interesting. These students are creating these big events, and we want to empower them.

On the competitive side, when we first started Heroes of the Dorm, I think a lot of universities still were really, really questioning eSports. Right? Is this bad? Is this something that students are wasting their time on? Is this something that hurts academics? What we’ve seen today, this is the third year that we’ve hosted Heroes of the Dorm now, it’s completely different from the universities. The universities are starting to look at eSports as a way that they can help to develop their student body and support something that these students love doing, they’re seeing it as a way that they can begin to get their name out and they can compete with other universities across the united states, and I think we’re looking at these sports objectively.