POWELL — Hoping it can help boost enrollment efforts, Northwest College is looking at starting up an esports program.

Once seen as only a pastime, online video gaming has become a huge revenue generator. There are professional leagues, corporate sponsors and enormous audiences that rival those of traditional sporting events. Esports also have national organizations dedicated to competitions at a collegiate level.

NWC athletic director Brian Erickson gave a brief presentation to the board of trustees at their December meeting about the college’s plan for esports. If all goes well, he hopes to get 30 to 40 incoming freshmen into the program by next fall, with the total participating students possibly higher.

“Instead of students in their room gaming, we’re trying to get them out of their room, where they’re coming together and gaming next to each other,” Erickson explained to trustees.

Speaking after the meeting, Erickson said esports competitors are held to the same standards of academic performance as student athletes, so if their GPA falls below a certain level, they don’t play.

Like any other competitive sport, teamwork, perseverance, and dedication are values the competition instills in its competitors.

The new program is also intended to help recruit students and ease some of the falling enrollment numbers that have impacted the college’s revenues in the past year; that continued drop has led to layoffs and a reduction in services.

“We can kind of get this club going and get a push and excitement about it,” Erickson told the trustees.

And because men and women play on the same teams, an esports team at NWC would easily comply with Title IX, which requires equal access to athletic opportunities in collegiate sports.

While there are currently no scholarships available for esports competitors at NWC, Erickson hopes to begin offering them as the program grows.

He still needs a facility for the athletes to train in — and the facility will need its own dedicated internet line, separate from the college’s network. The college network is protected with firewalls and other security measures that keep the school’s data safe, but it slows down speeds. The dedicated line will get around that problem, help minimize the demands on the school’s IT department and keep esports from placing demands on the NWC’s bandwidth.

Joining the realm of esports was first suggested to Erickson about two years ago, by NWC Enrollment Services Director West Hernandez.

“It got the snowball rolling,” Erickson said.

Then, in October, the NWC Foundation put up $15,000 to get the program going.

The college would join the National Associate of Collegiate Sports, which is a nonprofit organization made up of institutions with esports teams. It includes more than 170 schools across the country, with over 5,000 student athletes, $16 million in scholarships and an annual national convention.

Major League Gaming, which is the largest professional esports organization in the United States, boasted of 54 million viewer-hours of streaming video watched in 2013. That’s four times the number of hours that the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament was viewed.

Not only does the viewership translate to huge revenues, esports are low in cost when compared to traditional sports that require expensive stadiums.

And the sport is growing by the year.

“I think we’re getting ahead of something that’s going to be a big push as we go five, 10 years down the road,” Erickson told the trustees.

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