Nearly 550 of the country’s rising high school and collegiate esports stars demonstrated their gaming skills and competed for a share of an estimated $15 million in available scholarships during The Esports Combine™ over a weekend in mid-October. The first-of-its-kind skills challenge for esports was originally planned as an in-person showcase in Indianapolis for college recruiters and professional esports scouts but shifted to a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Altogether, more than 1,000 athletes, recruiters, scouts and other industry pros participated in the inaugural combine.

“Building up a world-class esports infrastructure parallel to Indiana’s advanced industries like tech, ag-tech, manufacturing and logistics, energy and life sciences is a smart talent pipeline strategy because esports athletes are predisposed to pursuing STEM degrees and careers over any other fields—to the tune of 50.4 percent,” said Ryan Vaughn, president of Indiana Sports Corp.

The recent survey conducted by GYO Score included responses from high school and college-level esports athletes as part of the data analytics platform’s recruiting-profile creation process. Of the 1,029 esports athletes nationwide who answered questions about their desired major or study interests, 50.4 percent answered that they are primarily interested in pursuing college majors in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

While the pandemic has continued to loom large over other conferences—forcing cancelations and scalebacks—The Esports Combine™ shifted seamlessly to a virtual format (largely due to the inherent online nature of esports) and actually grew in scale. This matches trends in the broader esports industry, which has seen global revenues grow this year by 15.7 percent and global viewership is up by 11.7 percent.

In a video message kicking off The Esports Combine, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said, “We just could not be more excited about the esports that have captured the imagination and engagement of a new generation of athletes. Once again, Indiana is making an emerging sport our own. The Esports Combine is more than just about competition. It supports the development and the evolution of athletes in partnership with secondary and post-secondary institutions for that matter. Esports are here to stay and flourish, and we’re proud to partner in this endeavor. As we celebrate and define a new age of sports, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the place where champions are crowned, Indianapolis, Indiana.”

What The Esports Combine made clear is that while other sporting events and leagues (such as the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA) had to stall, overhaul, or fall behind during this health crisis, esports proceeded unabated and, in fact, thrived. In what may be a future windfall for Indiana’s economy, the state’s esports community is small enough to offer genuine connections and high-quality, defined paths to going pro, while also being big enough and sophisticated enough to have a national impact and establish a leading American esports hub.

Being able to continue with the combine mostly as planned meant that athletes demonstrated their talents and pursued their dreams of earning individual college scholarships of up to $20,000. Professionals networked and delivered virtual keynotes through video conferencing, including esports recruiting coach Alan Gadbois and esports attorney Ellen Zavian. And a first-of-its-kind esports spectacle made its debut on the national stage.

The combine brought together six tournaments, educational training sessions and panels, college recruiting opportunities, and a college league showcase. These products and programs have Indiana-related fingerprints (and in many cases actual State of Indiana branding) all over them because Indiana Esports Development is a formation of two well-known Indiana entities: Harena Data and Indiana Sports Corp. So when high school athletes and recruiters think of collegiate esports, they will associate opportunities with The Esports Combine and Indiana.

Though the combine may be the cherry on top, it wasn’t the only event that led to this discussion. Indiana’s esports scene has been gaining in notoriety for several years for a myriad of reasons:

  • Professional sports organizations such as Pacers Gaming are becoming a prominent piece of the local community through philanthropy. They most recently launched a Make-a-Wish partnership.
  • Indianapolis colleges and high schools are implementing esports programs as it has many benefits for students. With local schools quick to adopt esports, the future of esports is set for more students participating, more leagues developing, and more opportunities for scholarships in Indiana.
  • State associations are creating esports leagues and reinventing recreational soccer for youth. Targeting this demographic is critical for setting up esports success in Indiana 10 to 15 years down the line. More students see the fun of esports and parents see the developmental value it brings their kids.

By taking every aspect listed above and blending them into a real-time experience that everyone in the nation can spectate, this event perfectly positions Indiana as the state to make the leap forward and embrace the future.