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Gamers level up at FLCC

Students without an interest in typical sports but with a competitive streak will soon get a chance to play games at a higher level, according to officials with Finger Lakes Community College. The college currently has plans to unveil a varsity-level esports team in the upcoming fall semester, specializing in the video game Overwatch.

Current plans for the team, which will be playing specific video games at a competitive level, online and at different tournament locations, will be 10 to 15 coed students, coached by FLCC Assistant Professor of Modern Languages Michael Van Etten. The team will practice their skills at the school’s software development lab, sharing space alongside students in the college’s Game Programming and Design program.

Yet there’s hope for expansion at the college among faculty.

“I would love to put in a $2.5 million arena, but that’s not going to happen,” said Will McLaughlin, chairperson of FLCC’s Computing Sciences Department and esports coordinator.

The Overwatch team will be sharing lab space, “for the first year or two,” according to Robert Lowden, director of athletics for FLCC. “As we expand down the road,” he said, the college “may have to give them their own space with their own computers and so on and so forth.”

Lowden, director of athletics for FLCC, also said having a varsity team in a SUNY school will help attract more students to the college, much like the recruiting process for more traditional college sports teams.

“Our baseball players are going to look at our baseball program as well as our academic program. They’re going to look at the whole package, and I foresee that happening with the kids that are coming up that are gaming, so to speak, that play in the esports,” Lowden said. “They’re going to say, ‘geez, who has the programs. I want to continue to compete.’ It might make us more attractive, a more attractive option for them down the road.”

McLaughlin also believes esports can be a good investment for the college, given how “it kind of is” a unique form of competitive play for a college-aged generation.

“Younger youth tend to like watching these competitions as much as the older generations like to watch athletic sports,” McLaughlin said.

There’s also big business in the esports arena, according to market forecasts. In a 2019 report on the market by the analytics firm Newzoo, the competitive gaming craze will exceed $1 billion in overall revenue worldwide. This will mark an increase of 26.7 percent from last year, with total revenues at $906 million. Some of the biggest drivers of revenue for esports include sponsorship, which is estimated to be $456.7 million, with media rights being the fastest-growing revenue stream, at $251.3 million.

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