Hiram College

Here’s the question: Is eSports a club, a sport, or something else entirely? As a member of the new Video Game Club at Hiram College, Brian Barbian ’19 of Eastlake, Ohio, has given this question serious thought before his decisive answer.

“It’s a sport,” says Barbian, a commuter computer science major at Hiram College, who is also known as Pure Venom in the Call of Duty competitive community. “You get a group of people together, and you overcome boundaries with each other and the situation that is put in front of you with the other team. You still have to watch the game video. You still have to be physically fit—if you aren’t fit, you tend to be a little bit shy on the [game remote] trigger.”

Gaming has provided great opportunity for Barbian on many levels: “I used to play football. But after I was told that I was getting rods in my back, I started heavily playing video games. That’s when I got really good at Call of Duty. My friends that owned the number one team, Team Fear, let me join.”

Ten years later, Barbian ranked third in the nation, won two championships at ages 16 and 17, and coached other student gamers. He also has earned an associate degree in computer science software engineering from Lakeland University. Plus, the last team he competed with had a signing bonus of $5,000. He once made $150,000 at a tournament.

In fact, according to Garrett Munro, advisor of the Video Game Club and Instructional Designer at Hiram College, “There is as much money in eSports as there is in PGA golf tournaments. By having eSports, we could prepare students to not only be eSports athletes, but also eSports commentators. Hiram’s new Sport Management major could prepare students for such a career.”

Gaming in a group breaks down barriers, too. “Gaming is something that brings people together who normally wouldn’t come together. People who are more shy—not as outgoing—have a space to work with other people to broaden their horizons instead of feeling like they have to sit alone in the dark,” says Barbian.

Munro believes eSports opens up a whole new pathway for students beyond just being a team sport. Outside of a possible future in eSports commentating and teamwork, there is the opportunity of further structured learning, an idea on which Munro is currently working.

“It would be called the Games and Learning Lab—a concept where we put a lab together that would have different stations for gaming. It would look at what gaming does beyond just fun,” says Munro. “The right kind of game can teach the right things. When you do eSports, it offers gamers a chance for structured play that students often don’t get in their own room. It’s tough, but the benefit is they get the mentoring they need to develop their skill. The Games and Learning Lab would be a space at Hiram to investigate that and maybe even engage high school students. I’m looking for grants or a gift to sponsor this project.”

The learning lab would not only cater to club members, however. Events would be open to campus, and include tabletop and board game events, tournaments, and 21st-century skill and career development, tailored through concepts found in gaming. Many colleges have started to offer eSports, even giving their students scholarships to participate.