The Explosive Growth of Collegiate eSports

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 10 Apr 2019

The eSports market is booming, and on its current trajectory, the number of people who watch and participate in eSports will grow from 395 million this year to 580 million by 2021 according to Newzoo. As the passion—and career opportunity—for eSports grows, colleges and universities are looking for ways to build gaming teams and gaming facilities into their athletic and academic programs.

In the case of SUNY Canton, the interest for an eSports program was already there. Upon program launch, tentative transfer students opted to stay, and the amount of interested new students grew. This year alone, SUNY Canton received 270 applications for its eSports-inspired major, Game Design & Development.

Putting the tools into place

However, before eSports became a reality at SUNY Canton, the school had to first evaluate its IT infrastructure to ensure it could support the new initiative. Strong wireless connections are critical to enable practice and play. The network infrastructure must support gaming devices and accessories, while also supporting associated academic work for gaming-related majors.

In part one of this series, Randy Sieminski of SUNY Canton shared how the school’s eSports program came to fruition. In part two, SUNY Canton’s Molly Mott covered how eSports blossomed into an academic program. In part three, we’ll share what’s required to power an eSports program from a technology standpoint.

Outfitting a state-of-the-art eSports arena

Before you can implement an eSports program, you need a place to play. Now that many colleges are jumping on the eSports bandwagon, the schools that stand out and can win are the ones with dedicated gaming arenas outfitted with advanced gaming tools and the latest technology.

Due to growing interest in eSports on campus and the need to take its program to the next level, SUNY Canton designed a state-of-the-art gaming arena with professional gaming PCs, Alienware gaming computers, gaming stations, and specialized mice and keyboards. The first step in the deployment process was setting up a gaming-quality Wi-Fi network. With that in mind, the school decided to partner with Extreme Networks. As the official Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi analytics provider for the NFL, its solutions are used in professional sports stadiums across the nation and around the world—the perfect fit for a collegiate eSports program looking to take its team to the next level.

Since advanced gaming technology works only as well as the network that powers it, SUNY Canton needed to ensure seamless, reliable, low-latency connections. As more colleges join the National Association of College Esports (NACE) and enter competitions hosted by organizations like the ECAC, being at a disadvantage due to poor network infrastructure, when milliseconds matter, is not an option.

In terms of spectators, SUNY Canton’s new eSports arena features a production station where an announcer can broadcast the games live on Twitch. However, these streaming features, which are critical for attracting gamers, spectators, and advertisers, broadcast every glitch or delay. Spectators are less likely to tune in, and advertisers are less likely to pay, if there are lags and delays during the viewing experience. Having a strong, reliable connection is essential in keeping spectators and advertisers happy.

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To address these challenges and ensure its eSports program was set for success, we deployed Extreme’s suite of solutions. This included high-bandwidth, low-latency Wi-Fi and ExtremeSwitching for high-performance connectivity. Extreme Management Center and ExtremeControl were installed to simplify control over network activity anytime, anywhere. The college also deployed ExtremeAnalytics for increased visibility and insights on users and devices on the network.

Harnessing the power of network analytics

Popular eSports games like Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends, and others take up more campus bandwidth than any other application on the network. Schools with eSports programs need to pay special attention to their networks to allocate appropriate bandwidth to these activities. If not properly monitored, eSports players will suffer from game lags, putting players at a major disadvantage during competitions.

Using network analytics, IT staff can keep track of bandwidth distribution across campus and ensure arenas are prioritized and receive proper bandwidth during games for a seamless experience. Wi-Fi network analytics are also essential to ensure quality of experience. They enable IT staff to manage and monitor all connected devices, including unauthorized devices or connections that could interfere with the game.

Beyond ensuring proper bandwidth and reliable connectivity, there are unique environmental characteristics in gaming facilities that IT teams must account for. To get ahead of these inherent challenges, schools can take advantage of AI-powered networks that automatically adapt to changing situations and learn over time. For example, Wi-Fi signals can change based on how many people are in a room and even what they’re wearing. AI algorithms can ensure that despite the changing characteristics of the environment, every user gets lightning-fast connectivity without delays or glitches. From a staffing perspective, AI can help schools with limited IT staff save money by taking on these formerly labor-intensive optimization tasks.

Ensuring a successful eSports program

The eSports market is only growing. As schools adopt eSports programs, the first area to be addressed is their network infrastructure. Without a reliable, high-performance wired and wireless network, schools could be setting themselves up for failure. To be successful, the network throughput network must be high, and eSports arenas and labs of every size must be equipped with the right components—from wired switches to wireless access points to deliver signals and the analytics responsible for tracking network activity. Once the proper infrastructure is in place, schools are at a significant advantage to recruit and retain talent—and to win.

*This blog was originally posted to eCampusNews.com on November 5, 2018.

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