How higher ed equips gamers for competition, careers

Esports is a leading-edge model of 21st-century transdisciplinary synthesis and a powerful arena for fulfilling higher education’s mission.
By: | September 14, 2020
Esports at Miami UniversityEsports at Miami University

Before I came to Miami University as president in 2016, I had a common outsider’s view of esports: It seemed like an idle entertainment, probably harmless but seductively time-consuming. The game changed when Miami’s just-established varsity team, the first-ever in NCAA Division I, made me an honorary member. I learned so much about the competitive nature of the sport and the required education necessary to enter the development and design field. I became fascinated as a physicist by the technology and creativity of the field.

Gregory P. Crawford, Miami University

Gregory P. Crawford, Miami University

Fast-growing esports is a billion-dollar industry with a global audience of a half-billion people. It is one of the few sports that has thrived through the COVID-19 pandemic. Esports is a leading-edge model of 21st-century transdisciplinary synthesis and a powerful arena for fulfilling higher education’s mission.

An esports or game development education is powerful preparation for the world and workplace of the future, even if the graduate does not pursue a career in the field. On the academic side, an esports related area of study engages a host of disciplines with transferable skills and critical mindsets vital for the modern dynamic marketplace – critical thinking, broad view, storytelling, integration of ideas, analytical and quantitative expertise, management, team communication, and an entrepreneurial approach for agility, even learning to overcome failure.

Education in video games offers many sought-after discipline skills. Real-time 3D rendering, for example, will likely be the top digital skillset in the coming decade. Nearly every medium is moving to real-time rendering, from heads-up dashboards in cars to sets for film productions and apps to predict the weather, all technology taught in game development. 3D modeling and design is the standard in nearly all commercials and print/digital ads. The combination of 3D modeling and real-time rendering is used in studio animation.

Gaming and esports students can also develop highly transferable skills in web and app development, game-based marketing, gamification, storytelling, project management, experience design, sports management, social media and influencer marketing, event management, streaming media broadcast and content creation.

Like any other sport, competitive play is only part of the career ecosystem. Gaming and esports students can also develop highly transferable skills in web and app development, game-based marketing, gamification, storytelling, project management, experience design, sports management, social media and influencer marketing, event management, streaming media broadcast and content creation.

On the competitive side, esports players, like other athletes, gain a deep appreciation for collaboration. Elite esports players have reaction times equivalent to fighter pilots and the same cortisol levels as race car drivers. They have a disciplined regimen of physical training as well as game-based coaching. For many, esports is a way to integrate their competitive and leisure life, just as a career in the field can integrate work and recreation. Developing competitive skills with a group of other players instills a strong instinct for teamwork and collaboration. Participants gain discipline, a sense of accountability and responsibility, and a capacity to take the large and long view as well as an appreciation for careful attention and strategy in problem-solving.

Esports players learn the value of deep-dive understanding and expertise, leadership and performance under pressure. Their work ethic is far more rigorous than the approach of recreational gamers, and the work-leisure integration means there is no off-season. They gain particular skills such as structured problem solving, statistical analysis and hand-eye coordination that apply directly to many other careers, including the medical field. Of course, as with any emerging discipline, we must carefully research risks and unintended consequences from repetitive motion injuries to addiction.

In addition to the clear benefits for students, a strong esports program can elevate a university’s appeal when high-schoolers are making decisions about their future. High school students watch more esports online than all other sports online. Whether they are looking for a career in the field, a high-level competitive experience, or just plenty of like-minded clubs for leisure, many place a high value on such opportunities. Professional gamers sometimes retire young and return to further their university education.

Not that many years ago, I wondered whether esports was a distraction and a disruption to serious learning. My experience at Miami has convinced me that it is, instead, a powerful platform for developing the intellectual, technical, social, and personal skills that help graduates flourish in a dynamic and rapidly changing world.

Gregory P. Crawford, who has been president of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, since 2016, is also president of Esports Collegiate, a recent initiative within the Mid-American Conference. Reach him via email