How higher ed is shaping the business of esports
Students enrolled in the brand-new esports management degree program at Caldwell University in New Jersey take a course on the social impact of competitive video gaming’s rapid growth.
Coursework in the new major covers the positive aspects: Having an esports team creates a new campus community and gives students a connection to the school that they might not otherwise have found, says Neil Malvone, assistant professor of sports management and esports management.
And the esports management degree program also examines some of the problems that need to be solved: Though a coach of esports teams and several players at Caldwell are women, for example, white men dominate esports nationwide.
The class also discusses video game violence, even though research hasn’t found a strong link between virtual shooting and a player’s behavior in the real world, Malvone says.
“Right now, esports is a billion-dollar industry, and in the next 10 years, it will be in the $40 billion to $50 billion range,” Malvone says.
“The same jobs you need in sports, you need in esports—whether that’s marketing, finance, the legal end of things, or broadcasting and communications,” he adds.
Diversifying esports degree programs
Caldwell’s esports management degree program was created and approved in just three months, and also includes courses in business management and marketing.
Five Caldwell students have chosen the esports major since it debuted in fall 2019, and many others are interested, Malvone says.
Caldwell, in fact, joins a handful of other colleges that now offer esports degree programs to provide career paths for students who are unable to become professional players after they graduate.
Hampton University in Virginia in 2020 plans to become the first historically black college and university to develop an esports curriculum.
It plans to offer a master’s degree in sports administration with a concentration in esports management. It will also launch a certification program for college and K-12 esports coaches, says David C. Hughes, a Hampton instructor of sport management.
The university has also received a $340,658 technology grant from the Department of Homeland Security to build an esports innovation lab.
“There are going to be a lot of job vacancies in the next fives years in esports and we saw a need for diversity and inclusion,” Hughes says. “We want to have the ability to certify people in esports so we can join the esports economy and participate with everybody else.”
Esports degree programs lead to dream jobs
Shenandoah University, which just opened a new esports gaming facility, also began offering degrees in esports management and esports media and communications this fall.
A six-hour experiential learning requirement sets the foundation for the Shenandoah’s esports degree programs, says Joey Gawrysiak, the Virginia university’s esports director.
Rather than sit in lectures, students learn on the job by planning and running multiple tournaments each semester. Students decide what games will be played, what fees to charge and how to market the events, Gawrysiak says.
Students in esports degree programs also participate in internships and mentorships with industry professionals. This school year, for example, Gawrysiak is taking 10 of his students to South Korea to help run an esports world championship.
Because Shenandoah is an NCAA Division III institution that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, Gawrysiak and other administrators are not expecting their esports teams to become perennial powerhouses.
But they invested in the new esports arena to serve as a lab for degree students and to turn the university into an esports hub for the community. They plan to host high school tournaments and other events not only to give their students management experience but also to prove that esports is a legitimate and viable industry, Gawrysiak says.
Students, not surprisingly, are already convinced.
“Until I came to college, I didn’t think of esports as anything more than entertainment,” says Sean Kelly, a Shenandoah sophomore who is both majoring in esports and competing on a varsity team. “But this industry is allowing a lot of people to have their dream jobs.’”
Bigger than pro football?
In Massachusetts, Becker College’s esports management degree program covers the spectrum—from game design, business management and computer infrastructure to livestreaming and finance.
“I have no doubt that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe 10 years from now, esports will be bigger than NFL because it’s international,” says Alan Ritacco, dean of the School of Design & Technology at Becker. “There’s going to be the need for business leaders in esports who are similar to leaders in other entertainment industries.”
Becker was one of the first institutions to offer an esports business degree program, and its faculty now comprises industry leaders who have launched esports leagues, training programs and teams, Ritacco says.
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The courses in the esports business degree program vary. Students, for instance, delve into the history of video games to examine why some titles, such as League of Legends, have become so popular. They also analyze how to enhance the way competitions are streamed.
Services such as Twitch, YouTube and Mixer can deliver a more immersive experience than, for example, an NFL broadcast. Online viewers can even use social media or instant messaging to communicate with their favorite players during tournaments—and Becker’s esports students are figuring out how to market that, Ritacco says.
The rapidly evolving world of esports, however, requires a curriculum that can be adapted as the industry changes, Ritacco says.
“The curriculum we created two to three years ago has already changed slightly because the economics have changed, the games have changed and the venues are changing,” he says.
How to convince skeptical parents
Students choosing the new esports business degree at Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey also select a specialization such as esports events planning, branding and marketing, or sales and sponsorship.
The school has hired adjuncts from the esports industry to teach these courses, says Mary Kate Naatus, the dean of Saint Peter’s Frank J. Guarini School of Business.
“We believe the growth of esports is reshaping how traditional brands market to young people,” Naatus says. “We want students to understand how these shifts are changing the entire industry.”
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The university sees an opportunity to boost enrollment by offering students esports business degrees and spots on its seven competitive esports teams.
Esports majors also take core business courses such as accounting and finance. And Saint Peter’s leaders are fostering relationships with esports companies to build an internship program, Naatus says.
“We’re also working on explaining the major to parents who maybe get scared when young people say they want to major in video games,” she says. “Having students differentiate themselves by having specialized knowledge of one of the fastest-growing industries should be attractive.”
Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.
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