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Social Distancing No Problem For New Esports Collegiate Conference

Team GFG seen at the NBA 2K16 Road to the Finals championship event on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Los Angeles.
Dan Steinberg
Invision/Associated Press
Team GFG seen at the NBA 2K16 Road to the Finals championship event on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Los Angeles.

As the near-future of college sports remains uncertain during the pandemic, spectators will have an option for a less traditional athletic competition in the new school year.

The Mid-American Conference is launching an esports collegiate conference for all of its member schools, including many in Ohio like Bowling Green State University and Ohio University.

Esports are competitive video games, often played remotely. Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher says that makes them perfect for this moment.

“We’re all sitting here today wondering, ‘Are we going to get a football season underway, volleyball, soccer?’ Don’t know," Steinbrecher says. "Certainly with esports, we can literally have people in a dozen different places competing."

Collegiate esports have become more common in recent years, with teams going from clubs to intramural competitions to official university athletics. The Ohio State University opened an esports arena earlier this school year and announced it would be offering a corresponding major. Miami University made gaming a major back in 2018, while other schools like Kent State have used esports to recruit students.

“It’s becoming more and more organized, and this is an opportunity to provide some regulated competitive opportunities for students attending our institutions, for them to gain some of the same benefits that we see from participation in inter-collegiate athletics,” Steinbrecher says.

He says the conference will not only help attract high school gamers, but link them to an emerging field.

“There’s some really wonderful interdisciplinary opportunities we can build from this, whether it's digital sport production, the esports gaming business, animation, graphic design—just an array of things,” he says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.