Last year, we posed a question to the Indiana tech community: can Indiana become the hub for the global esports phenomenon? While it wasn’t as clear then, recent movement in the industry is indicating that Indiana is, in fact, positioned well to become the esports capital, even in the midst of a pandemic.  

In the year since we first ran the story, the collective interest and investment in Indiana esports has grown tremendously. One of the driving forces is a dedicated focus on esports and its variety of applications (including academic) at an organizational level. Earlier this year, Herena Data Inc., a Franklin-based company, and the Indiana Sports Corp. announced the launch of Indiana Esports Development LLC, designed to promote esports throughout Indiana. The forming of this organization is a clear indication that esports is a priority in the Hoosier state. 

As part of their efforts, Indiana Esports Development will host the first Esports Combine Indianapolis, which will include “six large tournaments, educational training sessions and roundtables, a Shark Tank-like pitch session, regional and national league play, and a college league showcase” according to WISH TV. Beyond a celebration of esports, Harena Data will also be leveraging their GYO platform to assess and evaluate prospects, providing insights to coaches and teams about who has potential and could be a good fit for their team. 

Quoted on WISH TV, Ryan Vaughn, president of Indiana Sports Corp. said, “Esports is a multi-billion dollar industry and we’re just scratching the surface on the trickle-down effects this will have on players, teams, communities, and organizations. For Indiana, this will move the needle towards making us a keystone of the esports industry.”

The Esports Combine Indianapolis is expecting over 1,500 attendees over the course of the event from September 25 – 27, which will include more than 100 industry speakers. The organizers said they are taking measures to ensure that attendees are safe in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ready Player University: Higher Education Joins the Game

Due to the growing popularity of esports, as well as the uncertainty created by the pandemic and its impact on traditional sports, universities in Indiana have decided to make official commitments to esports. 

Ball State announced in June that they are creating an official varsity esports team who will be joining the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for the 2020-21 season. The move is a natural extension of an already-active club team, Cardinal Esports, which has nearly 500 participants.

In the press release, Ball State’s President Mearns said, “Our expansion into this dynamic domain of esports is another way in which our University is providing students innovative opportunities to learn and to make connections with peers and within the community.”

Butler University has been an active participant in esports since 2018. As part of the BIG EAST esports network, Butler’s 12-member varsity team started competing against other universities in the spring of 2018. The university also has an esports club of about 90 students. 

Butler has also been active in getting other universities into esports. In fact, Butler’s team helped other BIG EAST universities organize and launch their own teams and championships. As a result, Butler’s varsity team has more competitors in League of Legends and Rocket League championships.

Seeing the future of esports, Butler has also partnered with Nerd Street Games to offer a virtual esports summer camp for teens. While virtual, the camp is overseen by a coach, who will “run games, drills, and matches throughout the duration of the week.” 

Students and faculty from both Ball State and Butler noted that they saw esports as a way to show their school spirit, as well as stay connected during the pandemic. They see esports as the future, both recreationally and academically, and are committed to investment in this area. 

Esports Filling the Gap for Traditionals Sports During the Pandemic

It’s no secret the pandemic has created challenges for sports, for players and fans alike. As we continue to social distance and restrict large gatherings, traditional sports aren’t going to look “normal” during the 2020-21 season. Even before the pandemic, esports was grabbing hold of traditional sports players and sports fans. 

Started almost three years ago, Pacers Gaming has an NBA 2K team with six team members in a 23-team league. While they have a physical space in Indianapolis, Pacers Gaming chose not to include a geographic identifier in their name, like all of the other teams in the league, to increase awareness across the world

Traditional sports teams usually have geographic bonds where fans are tied to a team because of where they live. Unlike traditional sports, esports opens a whole new world for international interest. In the middle of a pandemic, it keeps the world connected in a way no one really expected. 

ESPN2 has been covering broadcasts of NBA 2K contests due to a lack of in-person professional sports being aired. The Pacers Gaming No.1 pick Bryant Colon got some of the spotlight, helping to build awareness of the team and credibility overall. The more coverage and exposure Pacers Gaming gets, the better it could be for our state in the long run, especially from a recruiting standpoint. 

At any given time, there are millions of people watching someone play video games online. As the pandemic seems far from over, experts expect to see more and more coverage of esports on popular sports channels, as well as increased interest in esports.

Expanding Our Tech Hub 

Indiana has worked hard to continue to expand and evolve our tech community and ecosystem. As esports evolves, our tech ecosystem will need to continue to evolve with it. That means creating curricula, jobs, and companies focused on the esports industry. 

It’s clear that esports is on the minds of sports organizations and universities in our state. How will others join the fold to support the growth? Engage with us on social media and share your thoughts on Indiana esports. Be sure to tag @TechPointInd on all platforms.