PARKVILLE, Mo. — A new generation of college athletes continues to grow at Park University as the esports team has tripled in size in less than a year.
The school started the varsity program back in January and now offers scholarships to all 22 members of the team.
On Thursday, 41 Action News witnessed practice firsthand inside the “Parkade Battlegrounds.”
With more than a dozen computer stations furnished with fancy gamer chairs, team members played "League of Legends" and "Overwatch" as coach Ashley Jones watched.
“What I find really exciting is how excited the students are about it,” she said. “We really try to frame it in the same mind as traditional sports — while you have your practice, you also have your gym hours you need to complete, you have your grade checks, you have study hall hours.”
Senior Nicholas Gresham was one of the gamers glued to a screen Thursday.
After joining the team this year, he said esports at Park provided a special opportunity.
“Hearing that there was a chance to play collegiately was really cool, because it’s up and coming and not a lot of people get to do it,” he said.
For Gresham, the commitment to the team involves far more than button-mashing and reading strategy guides.
“You really have to apply yourself and practice definitely does make perfect,” he said. “There’s a mental fortitude you need for it. If you’re not getting the right nutrition, workout schedule or sleep, especially, your cognitive abilities aren’t really good.”
The wave of popularity for esports is also being seen at many other local schools.
The University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Baker University in Baldwin City, Ottawa University and both Columbia College and the University of Missouri in Columbia either currently offer or plan to offer teams.
According to Jones, the growth of the sport will likely continue.
“The schools that are creating these esports programs are kind of exploding at this point in time,” she said. “It’s going to keep growing, because that’s just what’s happening.”
While Park now offers a new gaming area for the team, Jones said that the increasing interest in esports may present some issues in future years.
“Right now, I’ve got 16 stations but 22 athletes,” she said. “I’ve already outgrown the number of stations that I have at this point.”
Park was the first school in the metro area to offer a varsity esports program. The team hopes to begin competitive play later this month.