At Creighton University, Pandemic Presents Opportunity for Intramural Esports

Nov. 23, 2020, 12:03 p.m. ·

Controller (Photo by Peter Laskowski from Pexels)

In-person sports at every level have faced unprecedented challenges this year as the pandemic swept across the country. Intramural sports at universities have been no different. While in-person intramural competitions may be struggling, at one Nebraska university, the pandemic may have offered a unique opportunity for intramural esports to grow in influence.

Steven Walton is the Assistant Director for Competitive Sports at Creighton University and told NET News he helped create an intramural esports championship series among state universities last spring as coronavirus cases began surging in the US.

“It’s definitely a rising sport,” Walton said, noting the investments large corporations such as ESPN are making in the billion-dollar competitive video-game industry. “We’re just trying to stay with the times and keep our students engaged, especially in this time when we can’t do a whole lot of stuff in person.”

Walton said that at a time when students were being sent home and in-person events were being canceled by the handful, he noticed a sizable increase in interest in esports at Creighton; an idea that had been struggling to get off the ground.

“Once March rolled around and we, unfortunately, had to have students leave campus, we needed a way to continue to engage them,” Walton said.

Interest was large enough that staff at the university created an intramural esports program within Creighton and reached out to other universities for a statewide video-game championship series.

“This came at a perfect time to really get our esports off the ground to keep our students engaged,” said Walton.

From March to May, students from Creighton, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Kearney, University of Nebraska-Omaha and Wayne State College duked it out over games of Rocket League, Madden NFL, FIFA, and NBA 2K.

Walton considers the experiment a success and is already planning for the possibility of another series next year, with even more games.

Greg Durham is Director of Recreation at Creighton and Walton’s predecessor. He also chairs a National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association task force that seeks to create an international intramural esports league.

“We’re not playing for NCAA level prizes,” said Durham, “but we really are hoping to create a recreational championship as an institution.

As an avid-video game player himself, Durham believes video games, especially competitive ones, can have just as much appeal as traditional sports.

“It’s no different than playing basketball or football,” said Durham. “Our students love competition, so when they can have bragging rights or be the best at something, they like to do that.”