Esports Go Mainstream

High-speed Connections Create Winners

Lander University eports competitors prepare for the Peach Belt Conference League of Legends tournamentA dozen gaming computers provide an ethereal green glow along the stage at Lander University’s Abney Cultural Center in Greenwood, South Carolina, as esports competitors prepare for an early round at the 2019 Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Championship tournament.

In traditional sports, the PBC is a member of NCAA Division II and composed of small colleges and universities in the Carolinas and Georgia. But as esports begins to find a larger niche, this is something different and new. While the video game industry has been around for decades, esports continues to evolve with college and professional teams, increasingly stunning games and graphics, and more platforms on which to play.

“I grew up playing stick-and-ball sports, and I never saw the difference in intensity between those sports and esports,” says J.T. Vandenbree, associate college esports manager at Riot Games, the creator and distributor of the battle arena game League of Legends. “In esports, all the competitors play the same games, and they all have the same experiences. And they all get to chase the same dream.”

Vandenbree spoke during a forum on esports hosted by Lander University during the 2019 PBC tournament. Members of the forum’s panel agreed that esports and video gaming are expected to continue to broaden their reach and market shares.

Georgia high schools are now involved in sanctioned esports leagues. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones bought a stake in professional esports team Complexity Gaming in 2017 and moved its training center to the Cowboys complex in Frisco, Texas. In 2017, 240 colleges and universities competed in esports. That number grew to 357 in 2019, and many of those schools offer scholarships to promising video gamers.

Despite the growing popularity of esports on college campuses and beyond, the NCAA has not sanctioned esports. Instead, the National Association of College Esports serves as its primary governing body, and the NCSA — Next College Student Athlete recruiting service — has added esports to its portfolio.

ESPN signed on as sponsor of the Collegiate Esports Championship and plans to continue its support of the genre across its platforms, John Lasker, ESPN’s vice president of digital programming, told Cheddar Esports during a regular show dedicated to gaming and esports.

“The conversion is happening right before our eyes,” Lasker says. “Sports teams and franchises are evolving into esports franchises and esports teams. As that continues to happen, ESPN expects to continue to be there as we have been in other sports.”

The Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Tournament took the big screen at Lander University's Abney Cultural Center


Gaming consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation have long incorporated internet connectivity into its gameplay, but Google is taking gaming one huge step outside of the console. Google was to introduce its much-anticipated Stadia online gaming platform — described as a sort of Netflix for gamers — in November. With the cloud-based Stadia, gamers will not even need a gaming console or PC to play. The cost is $9.99 per month in the U.S.

“Google may have just unveiled the future of gaming,” wrote Tom Warren, a senior editor for, following Google’s introduction of Stadia’s beta version at the Game Developers Conference in March.

The cloud-based technology, which relies on fast internet speeds, an array of servers placed around the world and special game controllers that relay commands quickly to the servers, puts more pressure on internet companies and cooperatives to deliver.

UNC Pembroke's Crystian Amaya and teammates competed at the Peach Belt Conference League of Legends Tournament.High-speed internet connections make it possible for gamers to compete, and the expansion of broadband services into rural areas makes it possible for more people to enjoy the games and to take advantage of the potential opportunities they offer.

In Kerrville, Texas, first-year Schreiner University esports coach Ryan Lucich says he often suffered through frustrating internet speeds and iffy connections while a student and esports competitor at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.

“Obviously, the biggest challenge in running a wide, multiplayer online game is the internet connection,” says Riot Games’ Vandenbree. “We have dozens of people at our company who work with telecommunications providers to try to figure out the best way to make our game packets work. Anything that makes our infrastructure stronger in our country, and any other country, is good for the game.”

Gaming old school in new ways

Using internet connections to play traditional games is an updated take on an old norm. “People used to play chess by mail or by messenger,” says Chris Bellinger, a Staunton, Virginia, resident and avid gamer. He participates in role-playing games with friends and family from across the miles thanks to internet connections and gaming platforms that allow real-time communication and play.

Bellinger says members of his groups, which total about eight people in each, are involved in Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars role-playing games. He participates in Pathfinder and D&D games with old friends and runs another D&D game with members of his family. Group members include people in Virginia, Florida, South Carolina and Iowa.

“We’re pretty spread out, so now it’s pretty cool,” Bellinger says. “It allows us to stay in touch. I don’t know that I would have much contact with my friends otherwise.”

One of the current games now played through the popular Roll 20 gaming platform originated from one that Bellinger and his friends started at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. “That game ran for about eight years with different people coming in or going out,” he says.

Roll 20 makes game play smooth and easy when coupled with a communications platform called Discord that allows for group chats and messaging.

While those platforms are relatively new, Bellinger says traditional gamers have been taking advantage of internet connections since the introduction of the World Wide Web. And before that, players used text-based multiuser dungeons, or MUDs, to meet up online for a gaming experience once confined to table tops or living rooms. “So, there’s always been ways to game online,” Bellinger says.