Lakeland — Starting in January, Florida Southern College is joining the movement that many deem the future of competitive athletics: eSports.

Ditching basketball courts and soccer nets, eSports allows gamers to competitively play video games with other teams. Florida Southern will join schools like the University of South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and Florida State in the program.

The National Association of Collegiate eSports, or NACE, regulates gamers in the same way NBA regulates basketball. Instead of a ball and court, students will work with expensive computer equipment and sit in costly video game chairs with lighting that caters to gamers.

Florida Southern President Anne Kerr decided to bring in the eSports program to accommodate a new generation of students.

“With our growing computer science major, you have to think, ‘How do we change to meet the needs of our students?’ ” Kerr said.

Florida Southern’s administration began looking into the program after hearing students talking about it. Kerr launched it into reality to grow with a generation that is accustomed to technology, the iGen.

“I think our students’ generation is very different than ours,” Kerr said. “None of us has done anything like this; we are all excited to learn more. We really need students to take the lead.”

How it works

Players will compete against rivals, practice and strategize in an arena specifically created for their needs.

The arena, where the students will interact and stream to hundreds of gamers and spectators, is no larger than the typical college classroom.

“The great thing about eSports is that it’s online,” said Pete Myers, director of athletics. “It makes you think outside the box.”

The eSports program will have three sized teams, each with a different game. Students will have their pick of ''Hearthstone,'' ''League of Legends'' and ''Overwatch.''

Like any varsity sport, tryouts will be conducted, and Florida Southern’s eSports teams will be coached to compete against other schools.

The details are being worked out, but there could be a different coach for each game.

“I’m so glad we have a team sport like this that will incorporate sportsmanship and strategy,” Kerr said. “Our students are very motivated.”

Fans of Florida Southern will be able to follow the games either online or in a spectator area.

“They will have snacks and such, same as a basketball game,” Florida Southern Vice President Robert Tate said. “It really is a spectator sport.”

Many of the costs of buying high-end technology and new uniforms is made possible through alumni donations.

“In terms of the program's costs, it’s mostly made up of technology,” Myers said.

Some form of scholarships will be offered as the program develops.

Tryouts won’t be conducted until January, but sophomore Garrett Bennett has been working on his gaming skills since he found out about the eSports program.

“It’s fun and all, but I’ve been stepping up my game to get ready for this,” Bennett said.

Bennett is in the top 1 percent to 2 percent of ''League of Legends'' gamers in North America.