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School is embracing the popular esports trend by forming co-ed intermural and intercollegiate programs on its Newberg campus.

COURTESY PHOTO: NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES - Esports stands for electronic sports and involves players, usually in teams, competing in video games against others while young audiences watch in person or online on streaming services like Twitch.

They are called "esports," and if you are over 40 you have probably never heard of them.

In a nutshell, esports stands for electronic sports and involves players, usually in teams, competing in video games against others while young audiences watch in person or online on streaming services like Twitch. It is enormously popular, with a global fan base of 586 million and fomenting a $1.1 billion industry in 2019.

George Fox University is embracing the popular esports trend by forming co-ed intermural and intercollegiate programs on its Newberg campus. The Bruins will join more than 200 varsity esports programs across the United States, according to a release from the school.

"The growth of esports over the past two or three years has been staggering, and the question is no longer if esports should be added at George Fox University, but rather when would we add it," GFU Athletic Director Adam Puckett said. "We are excited to be on the forefront of bringing esports to the Northwest Conference and the sense of excitement from current students and incoming students demonstrates that will be an enormous enrollment and participation driver at George Fox."

To that end the university announced it will construct a 1,200-square-foot arena at Wheeler Sports Center to host the esports competitions. Like more traditional sports, participants will wear uniforms, be led by coaches and will play other regional and national schools. It will be first program of its kind in the Northwest Conference, the governing body for all Division 3 intercollegiate athletics in Oregon and Washington.

George Fox has joined the National Association of College Esports (NACE), an organization founded in 2016 that boasts more than 170 members and represents 94% of varsity programs across the country.

What particular esports games the teams will compete in remains to be seen as the school is polling students to gauge how they would like to be involved (players, fans, intramural or intercollegiate) and what games should be played. Under consideration are popular games like League of Legions, Overwatch, Rocket League, Hearthstone and Fortnite.

Paskett said school officials see the benefits of forming an esports program reaching beyond simple competition to improving players' communication, team work, social, analytical, memory and concentration skills and enhancing their ability to think critically while building determination and toughness.

"Esports already exists on our campus," he said. "Organizing esports as an intercollegiate sport allows us to serve students by building community, creating relationships and providing structure that ultimately delivers on our university mission to prepare students spiritually, academically and professionally to think with clarity, act with integrity and serve with passion."

Although it will be the first such program in the Northwest Conference, college-level esports began in the United States in 2009, the release said, when schools began forming clubs to compete in tournaments.


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