On their first week in class, a group of students is playing a first-person shooter video game in a sleek new digital studio. It’s their introduction to the degree in esports they’ve enrolled in.
The group clicking away on their mice are at the University of Staffordshire, one of several U.K. and U.S. schools launching programs aimed at capitalizing on the booming industry’s need for skilled professionals. In the U.S., colleges including Virginia’s Shenandoah University, Becker College in Massachusetts and The Ohio State University have debuted esports degrees.
Ryan Chapman, 18, said his parents were “skeptical at first” about studying esports, or competitive multiplayer videogaming.
“But now they understand how big the industry is growing, the pace it’s growing at. They’re now really all for it because it’s a great industry to start to get into,” said Chapman, who was among the students in the lab playing Counter-Strike, one of the most popular esports games.
The University of Staffordshire last year launched its bachelor’s and master’s esports programs, in which students mainly learn marketing and management skills tailored to the industry. This autumn, it’s expanding the program to London while other schools are also debuting esports degree courses, including Britain’s Chichester University. In Asia, where esports has seen strong growth, schools in Singapore and China offer courses.
It’s not only colleges that are adding esports to their curriculum. More than 100 high schools in the U.S. have launched dedicated esports programs alongside their traditional soccer and football teams.
And some colleges, like the University of California, Irvine, are giving top players scholarships to entice them to enroll, a privilege long reserved for premier athletes.
$1.1 billion market
The global esports market is expected to surge to $1.1 billion this year, up $230 million from 2018 on growth in sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales, according to Newzoo. The research firm expects the global esports audience to grow in 2019 to about 454 million as fans tune in on livestreaming platforms such as Twitch and Microsoft’s Mixer.
Esports tournaments have become a cultural phenomenon and now rival traditional sports events in size and scale. Big competitions are held in arenas where thousands of fans watch big-name professional video gamers compete for lucrative prize pools.
Esports leagues have franchises in North America, Europe and Asia. The biggest names, such as Fortnite superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, can earn millions in prize money and livestreaming deals. Esports are even set to be a medal event at the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines in November.