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Ohio State is venturing into the world of online gaming

Because esports are the new real sports.

E-gaming: League of Legends 2018 North America Spring Finals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

“I would love to see the teams actually somehow move under athletics, that would be my dream.”

-Co-director of game studies and esports curriculum development Deborah Grzybowski, via Noah Smith, The Washington Post

If you’re not a fan of the new interpretation of the “roughing the passer” rule in the NFL, you probably won’t be delighted by the newest “sports” gaining traction at college campuses across the country, which has no contact whatsoever. Esports (that is, online gaming) have become increasingly popular to the point where leagues are now sanctioned by collegiate governing bodies. And now Ohio State is joining the fray, announcing a dedicated arena, curriculum and research to support gamers.

The move, according to school officials, was spurred in part by requests from companies recruiting on campus who found that students lacked certain skills to be successful in the area of video and online gaming.

The nascent esports operations will be held under the office of student life, rather than the athletic department, which keeps the program outside the purview of the NCAA. Since professional gamers get paid from an early age, both in terms of prizes and ad revenue, there would be little incentive to give up cash flows for college eligibility. However, that doesn’t mean that outstanding gamers can’t make it to college on scholarship. Riot Games, maker of League of Legends, is funding scholarships at all 14 Big Ten schools. The $35,000 allotment is divided among the rosters of each school’s team.

The Big Ten Network is also working with the game developer on the League of Legends Championship Tournament. Teams from each Big Ten school have participated in the tournament in the past, with Ohio State taking the top seed in last year’s event. The first tournament was held in 2017 and, in January, was extended through 2019. In total, more than 300 schools nationwide participate in League of Legends-related tournaments, but the Big Ten is the first major conference to host this kind of initiative.

“The analytics say he performed just as well as his statistics indicate, as PFF graded Hill in the ‘elite’ category during his 37 snaps on the field.”

-Dave Biddle, 247Sports

While Ohio State collectively looked less than fabulous against Minnesota Saturday, some players continued to show up and one, according to Pro Football Focus, gained elite status for his individual performance. Chief among this group is redshirt junior wide receiver K.J. Hill, who had one of the best games of his career, reeling in nine catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns--including an incredible, one-handed, 36-yard grab in the second quarter to put the Buckeyes ahead at halftime. Hill now has 40 receptions for 551 yards and four touchdowns on the season. PFF gave Hill a grade of 90.4 on the day. For reference, anything above a grade of 85 is considered “elite”.

Though Hill was the only player earning elite status, redshirt junior cornerback Damon Arnette came close, earning a grade of 81.6 for his 12 snaps. Though he played minimal time, Arnette recorded three solo tackles. Defensive end Chase Young played 55 snaps in all, but did not turn in as analytically high a performance as Arnette, bringing home a grade of 76.3. Young recorded three solo tackles of his own while pressuring Minnesota’s freshman quarterback for the length of the game. Though he was playing without Nick Bosa opposite, Young was not alone on the line. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones turned in a solid performance of his own, earning a grade of 76 from PFF that was headlined by his sack and two hits on the quarterback.

Lower down the list, tight end Luke Farrell had his best game of the season. After catching just three balls in the previous six games, Farrell had two catches for 37 yards against the Gophers. Meanwhile Dwayne Haskins, the man throwing to Farrell, earned a grade of just 74.5, despite passing for another 400 yard game, complete with three touchdowns and no picks.

“In other words, if people really wanted to get to a game, they could. Many of them just aren’t as interested as they used to be, which means it’s also a fan problem.”

-Tony Gerdeman, The Ozone

On a national stage, Ohio State looks to be putting forth one of the best football products in the country. The Buckeyes have risen to No. 2 in the AP Poll and are one of just eight undefeated teams remaining in the FBS. They’ve had two of the most-watched college football games already this season in TCU and Penn State.

But while markets well-outside of Columbus are gathering weekly to watch the Buckeyes on TV, the local fanbase doesn’t itself seem motivated to attend the game in person. The No. 2 program in the nation hasn’t been able to convert its on-field product to actual butts in seats.

There are many surface-level reasons which could explain some of this attrition. This past weekend, when the Buckeyes took on Minnesota, the student body was on fall break, which may have contributed to a crowd which barely broke 100,000 attending the game. Ohio State also has had to deal with relatively poor weather for several Saturdays, including its outing with Rutgers which just 93,057 fans attended.

However, it must be said that if a little rain is keeping the Ohio State fanbase away, there are more serious issues beneath the surface. The at-home fan experience has gotten better than ever, and watching games on the go, via phone or tablet, has become the norm for many folks. It makes the barriers to entry for seeing the game live, including travelling to the stadium, parking and working through throngs of humans on the way in and out of the game, seem that much higher.

That’s a national problem, though. For Ohio State specifically, it must be said that fans have gotten used to regular season success. Of course the Buckeyes are going to beat Minnesota, but will it matter in the end if Ohio State gets crushed in the College Football Playoff? Why, therefore, take a full Saturday to attend the game? For many fans, it is simply not worth the investment.