Esports at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Esports turning into a Billion Dollar Industry
UAF Esports logo
UAF Esports logo(KTVF)
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 7:12 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Esports, once looked down on, is now a growing industry. The global esport market was valued at USD 1.22 billion in 2021, and is projected to grow from 1.44 billion in 2022 to 5.48 billion by 2029. The tournament, with the largest prize pool in 2022 at $32.85 million, was for the game Dota 2, split between the five man team. For college students, a scholarship is also possible, with 30 institutions across the country offering them, and that number continues to grow.

Esports is relatively new at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), with the Alaska Esports Center launched in March 2021.

The esports teams shortly followed, with quite a few of the teams centered around the biggest competition games out right now. Brighton Higbee, the Captain of Rocket League Blue Team UAF, said, “It was actually pretty cool. I didn’t know about the center until I got an email right before the semester started last semester and there were tryouts for esports.” He also said, “I didn’t know there was esports at all. So I came to the tryouts and I checked it out, and it was pretty cool. Being able to make the team come here weekly was really fun, and just having a place to play with my friends, my teammates, and get to practice and build chemistry was really cool.”

Esports essentially needs a computer or console and solid internet connection to play. It allows you to play anywhere at any time. It takes away the travel costs and expenses a normal team would have to deal with, especially being a team in Alaska. Drake Richards, UAF Esports Coordinator, said “Brighton and the rest of the Rocket League team played in the grand finals against the University of Jamestown, which is like North Dakota, in terms of Alaska, that’s the other side of the country. That’s a huge distance away, and we’re able to compete against them in the real time on campus in the comfort of our center, which is an advantage we don’t really get with traditional sports, and I think it’s really cool.”

Richards added, “Because you know, being in Alaska it can be very alienating. Like when our athletic teams, when they need to travel for away games, they’ll travel for long periods of time. With Esports, we were playing against teams as close as Seattle or as far away as Texas.”

The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) which was founded in 2016, has helped popularize Esports at the college level, with 175 schools currently part of the league. There are different divisions for games, including League of Legends, Overwatch 2, Rocket League, and Valorant.

The Rocket League Blue Team for UAF competes in the NACE Star East League, with a Gold Rocket League team also. Higbee said, “Our division was just West and Central teams from around the country, like we played Boise State, which is a pretty big name to go up against as a small school like this. It was fun, we ended up getting second out of seven teams in our division, and it was fun just to meet all the different players. I played last semester and this semester, and some teams were in the league both times and some were new. So I got to meet different people, play against old rivals that we played multiple times last season.”