The Rise of Esports | Butler Stories
Students playing video games

The Rise of Esports

Michael Kaltenmark ’02, MA ’16

from Spring 2019

As stereotypes go, it’s said that too much time with videogames leads to such things as poor social skills and long-term accommodations in the parents’ basement. However, the reality at Butler University is quite the contrary. Sophomore Luke Renchik and fellow members of the Butler Esports team represent a new generation of college students who are rapidly debunking these myths.

While Renchik and teammates might spend upwards of four to eight hours a day honing their gaming craft, they do so while successfully balancing the demands of a Butler education. “Playing a game at a high level and success in school go hand-in-hand,” Renchik says. “Your ability to problem-solve and learn effectively are important skills that can help improve your gaming.”

An Economics and Finance major from Clarkston, Michigan, Renchik is not only a member of Butler’s relatively new Esports team, but also a member of Butler’s quickly growing Esports Club, which now boasts more than 200 members in just two years. The rise in club membership is a microcosm of a broader national trend among Renchik’s peers with videogame prowess who are looking to supplement their college pursuits with gaming competition.

And with real money at stake, it’s no wonder why students like Renchik are making their college choice with gaming in mind. Forbes reports that esports industry revenues will exceed $1 billion in 2019, and higher education is piggybacking on that growth. Some schools are now offering esports scholarships to recruit students, and once on campus, esports competitors are playing for lucrative prize monies being offered by gaming companies.

Butler’s growing, yet modest, Esports team maintains affiliation with the BIG EAST Conference, where they’re holding their own against counterparts from other member schools. Teams are playing popular gaming titles such as League of Legends (Renchik’s specialty), Rocket League, Call of Duty, and more. Meanwhile, fall and spring seasons feature different game championships, complete with live action broadcasts on Twitch and YouTube.

“We’re definitely very good for the size of our school,” Renchik notes. “It’s fun to be a part of it all at the ground level and to have that underdog mentality going into tournaments. There aren’t a lot of people expecting you to do well so it makes it especially exciting when we do win.”

So, what’s the next level for Butler’s esports scene? Hopefully more marquee wins like last fall’s BIG EAST Invitational victory for the Rocket League squad, engaging content for curious online spectators, perhaps a new academic curriculum, and even a dedicated physical space for this virtual enterprise.

Currently, team members compete on their own custom-built hardware from the confines of their rooms in campus residence halls. The dream for Renchik and his peers is a campus gaming center to foster community, competition, practice, and course instruction.

For now, these gaming pioneers will be feverishly wrapping up homework so they can hop online and practice for the next competition, all while redefining the perception of what it means to be a gamer.