Ontario’s new esports scholarship program ‘a step in the right direction,’ students say

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By Vanessa Tiberio

Ryerson students involved in esports say they’re excited about the provincial government’s decision to invest in an esports scholarship.  

On March 11, the Ontario government announced its plans to invest $1 million over two years in the Ontario Esports Scholarship program, with the goal of offering financial assistance to students enrolled in programs related to esports such as game design, development, marketing and innovation. 

Benson Lam, president of Ryerson Esports and a third-year RTA media production student, said this announcement is especially positive given the relatively low funding the school’s esports program receives. 

Since esports isn’t recognized as a varsity sport in Canada, he said many talented players move away to the U.S., where they are considered varsity athletes and are eligible to receive funding and scholarships to pursue their talents as a career.

“For me, this announcement means that esports is being further legitimized as an actual career,” said Lam. “It shows that esports has really grown and has caught the attention of the government since they’re trying to develop the entirety of the esports ecosphere here in Ontario.”

Fifth-year mechanical engineering student Cameron Larmour is a member of the Ryerson Esports team and the League of Legends team manager. He said this scholarship announcement has made a lot of his teammates excited about the future of the field.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s interesting to see that it’s being addressed, and there’s merit to this as an actual sport that can attract student-athletes to come to play for our team. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future [investing in esports] becomes the norm for universities and colleges across North America.” 

First-year biomedical engineering student Nahid Irtiza Islam Alinda said this scholarship is a great start to boost students’ confidence to pursue their passions in esports.

“This is a great initiative. If this is materialized in the future, many other governments, people, private organizations and foundations will be more inclined to invest in esports, which will create more employment for people who really love what they do,” he said. 

Alinda said he struggles to balance studying while running his own esports clan. 

Alinda’s parents currently pay his tuition out of his father’s pension fund. As an international student, a potential scholarship opportunity would allow him to support himself in school while continuing to follow his passion.

“In Canada, a lot of people are interested and spend a lot of time gaming. If scholarships can convert those people into esports athletes, maybe instead of them dropping out of school, gaming can act as leverage for them to serve their country, their families and themselves for something they love,” said Alinda. 

The esports scholarship program is the first of its kind in Canada and the first scholarships will be awarded to students in fall 2022. 

“This investment will help students pursue their passion and prepare for careers in the highly lucrative video game and esports sector, and to develop transferable skills valued by employers across countless industries,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities.

Although Rohan Joshi isn’t involved in any Ryerson esports programs right now, he said that the potential to receive a scholarship makes it more likely that he will join an esports team in the future. 

“This could open up job opportunities for many people,” said Joshi, who is a first-year business student. “Especially since I’m in the business program, it would be something to consider getting involved with.” 

Larmour said this scholarship program is a good start for recognizing and motivating student esport players, but the government should do more to acknowledge other people involved in esports programming. 

“What makes a team good is the coaching staff. So in the future, [the government] could offer some type of bursary or scholarship for people who are part of the coaching staff that would greatly benefit from it as well,” said Larmour. 

Lam also said this announcement is a good first step, but more needs to be done when considering the progress made by schools in the U.S.

“I think Ontario really needs to move fast. If this is the only thing they’re offering in the next five years, then we’re going to fall really behind in esports as a whole,” he said.

Recently, Ryerson Esports announced their partnership with esports organization Gen.G Esports to boost industry support for esports students. Lam said the Ontario government should take a similar approach. 

“The government should come up with a multi-stage plan,” he said.

“It’s really good to motivate the students involved to actually do well and make a career in esports, but the issue with just providing scholarships is that they don’t get players industry connections. This is something that a lot of schools lack, and something that we actually strive to achieve.”

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