By launching the program, KSU has joined a growing number of institutions nationwide participating in intercollegiate Esports. According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, of which Kennesaw State is now a member, there were just seven varsity Esports programs at colleges and universities in July 2016. That number has since grown to include more than 170.
“As we witness the exponential growth of Esports globally, it became clear that KSU was well-positioned join an exclusive group of universities nationwide who sponsor varsity programs,” KSU President Pamela Whitten said. “With Georgia’s only accredited game design degree program, strong industry partners and a robust Esports student organization, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to launch our varsity teams. Not only does it serve as a competitive outlet which injects our students with school pride, it aligns with our student-centric focus by allowing them to pursue their academic passions through our Esports scholarships.”
Like other varsity sports, such as basketball and football, KSU Esports players adhere to a regular practice schedule and compete in organized seasons against other universities, earning scholarships for their efforts. Currently, 19 Esports players compete in one of three video game titles sponsored by the University: League of Legends, Rocket League and SMITE.
Recently, Kennesaw State earned its first varsity Esports title by taking home the Peach Belt Conference (PBC) League of Legends championship. The Owls joined the Peach Belt in July as an affiliate member.
Though the varsity level of competition marks a new chapter at KSU, the institution has a rich history of Esports on campus with a highly active registered student organization and 10 competition clubs that existed well before the varsity program. To build upon the growing interest surrounding Esports, KSU launched a task force in 2019 composed of representatives from the Division of Student Affairs, the College of Computing and Software Engineering (CCSE) and the Department of Athletics to explore the possibility of starting a varsity program.
“We conducted benchmark reports and did a lot of research on how other schools approached this, eventually inviting students into the fold to help us launch the program,” said Drew Harvill, director of student activities on the Marietta Campus. “We considered everything from which video game titles we would sponsor to where we could house our Esports arena, and all things in between.”
Beyond the varsity program, KSU is still looking for ways to introduce more students to competitive Esports. Last year, Kennesaw State’s Division of Student Affairs and the Kennesaw Esports student organization launched a competitive esports series in an effort to provide an innovative social outlet for KSU students who were participating in remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester. Titled “Game On, KSU,” the series featured three video game competitions that were played entirely online. A similar effort was held this month, allowing all KSU students to participate in a series of online tournaments.
“There is a whole cultural movement that we’re witnessing,” said Joaquin Mallea, a mechanical engineering student and varsity Esports player. “People are starting to respect the competitive nature of Esports and recognize that it takes skill to play these games at a high level. It’s nice to say we were there when Esports started to take hold.”