Boise State learned in 1986 that being first matters.
That was the year the university installed its vaunted blue field and sent shockwaves through the sports world.
Once considered a colorful gimmick, the Blue Turf became part of Boise State’s national brand. Now other schools are following the Broncos’ lead: Six Division I football teams have them, each of which needs permission from Boise State before installing non-green turf.
The moral of the story? It pays to be ahead of the curve. And, as of Wednesday, Boise State is blazing another trail.
This time, it is in eSports.
Boise State approved a varsity video game team and will begin competitive play in September. There are 42 schools in the National Association of Competitive eSports. Boise State joins Utah, Georgia State and Miami (Ohio) as the only varsity eSports programs at universities that also compete in major college football.
“If you come in early and you have a lot to offer, you become magnetic,” said Dr. Chris Haskell, Boise State’s eSports advisor and an assistant professor in educational technology. “Part of it was recognizing, not if it will grow, but when and how much and how do we use that Blue Turf thinking.”
Boise State’s eSports team will compete in five games in its first season: League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Rocket League and Heroes of the Storm. The number of players in each tournament will vary depending on the game: Some will be five-on-five, some will be one-on-one. Team members are ranked in tiers that amount to a depth chart. Starters and backups for competition exist like they do in classic sports. There are national championships with March Madness-like brackets and competitions are occasionally broadcast on ESPN.
It is important to note that the program is not under the jurisdiction of Boise State’s athletic department or the NCAA. It is sponsored by EdTech in Boise State’s College of Education with support from the College of Innovation and Design.
The parallels in eSports and other varsity sports pop up again in this respect: The school will eventually offer scholarships to team members and will actively recruit. Haskell said he has already gotten notes from students who want to join the team.
Unlike club sports, the eSports program has university support similar to varsity athletic programs. The school is planning space for an eSports arena, Haskell said, and the team will don official Boise State colors and logos.
“It is a commitment from the university to put their resources out there so their students can have a consistent space. Varsity typically means you can represent, you can wear the color and logo,” Haskell said. “It builds pride and recognition.”
Haskell thinks a college campus should be a microcosm of the outside world. People outside campus walls are gaming. Why shouldn’t students do so at a high-level with the resources to thrive?
Times might be changing, but a university’s mission remains consistent.
“This thing is all around us, and it’s actually going to take over. It was not if this was going to happen on college campuses … it was when it was going to happen,” Haskell said. “The digital culture that exists is driving this university.”