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Esports are just as important as traditional sports. (Op-Ed)

I am not a huge sports fan. In fact, I don’t enjoy watching sports at all. I find it boring to watch men throw or kick a ball around for hours on end. However, there is one unique sport gaining traction that I truly enjoy: Esports.

Many popular video games have esports leagues: League of Legends, Valorant, Call of Duty, Overwatch (formerly), Apex Legends, Fortnite, etc. For a gamer like me, esports are compelling and thrilling to watch. These games require their own specific skill sets, with teamwork a major component of each game. These leagues are open to anyone, regardless of gender identity, disability status, or nationality. If you break your leg, you can still play esports! No one gets injured while playing, and you do not have to travel to compete.

Esports are growing in popularity; collegiate esports leagues are springing up all over the country. Students have rallied to form their own esports teams at their schools. As of 2019, according to a tally by ESPN, more than 100 varsity esports programs exist. Students are actively receiving scholarships for their participation and the zeal they bring to the game.

“Three years ago, we started with just 12 schools and three games,” said Dan Coonan, Commissioner of the ECAC, “Today we host 340 different teams from over 100 schools. I do not see the growth slowing down anytime soon.  Within ten years, I believe virtually every university sponsoring a varsity athletic program will also sponsor a varsity esports program.”

The COVID-19 pandemic saw many college sports put on hold due to travel restrictions, player infections, and the risk of transmission. Esports were not as heavily impacted by COVID-19, with teams springing up everywhere.

Dr. Laurie Walczak at The University School of Milwaukee highlighted the benefits of esports in a post-COVID world. The world of esports is inclusive, fosters social-emotional skills, encourages students to engage in STEM, and builds community. Students of all backgrounds work together to play the games they enjoy, and crowds will gather to watch. There are currently 18 esports arenas across the country, where fans can unite to cheer on their favorite teams.

The demand is there: people want to participate in and watch esports. Debate all you want about the validity of esports, they are here to stay.

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