Gaming, once thought of as only a recreational activity, is becoming one of the most influential and rapidly growing industries with the introduction of eSports, which is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2020.
As an early adopter, SUNY Canton was one of the first schools to embrace that growth by launching a competitive eSports athletic program and joining the National Association of Collegiate Esports. But SUNY Canton didn’t stop there. As we were developing the eSports program from an athletics perspective, we also explored how eSports could connect online students with campus life. With more than 25 percent of our students enrolled online, eSports offers opportunities for this population to become student athletes and deepen their connection to the college community.
Student interest is matched by industry predictions. Across the world, eSports is growing at a rate of 40 percent a year. It is expected to top $1.5 billion dollars (U.S.) in revenue by 2020 with a global audience of more than 580 million. Employment of gaming software developers, graphic designers, virtual reality engineers, multimedia artists, and animators is projected to grow six percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities include sport sales, marketing, public relations, facilities operations, event and tournament management, announcers, coaches, etc.
In part one of this series, my colleague Randy Sieminski shared how SUNY Canton’s eSports athletic program came to fruition. In part two, I’ll cover how eSports grew beyond the athletic department and blossomed into an academic program that’s giving our students a platform to grow their careers in the emerging gaming industry.
New majors to support a new industry
With an already thriving student body that enjoyed gaming in their free time and as a school rooted in STEM education, SUNY Canton’s leadership realized that eSports could be an opportunity to reach and engage students not only on the “field,” but also in the classroom and beyond.
When we first introduced eSports athletic teams on campus, we focused on teaching the skillsets student athletes normally gain on the field: community, team building, and leadership. As we watched the market grow and flourish, we realized students also need to understand the business aspect of eSports.
Recognizing that we need to prepare students for the economic and professional opportunities generated by the sport of competitive gaming, SUNY Canton recently drafted a proposal for a new eSports Management degree. The degree focuses on the business side of this fast-growing industry. We also offer complementary and related degrees in Sports Management, Technological Communication, Cybersecurity, and Graphic and Multimedia Design to provide students with additional career paths to the gaming industry. Through these courses, we are teaching students about the business side of what goes in to managing tournaments and competitive play, the virtual and technology side of gaming, and the design that goes into making the beautiful games we play.
As of fall 2017, SUNY Canton began offering a Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development program. The new major focuses on video game design, storytelling, and the production needs of the modern gaming industry. It has attracted a lot of attention, with some 250 applicants. More than 60 students were accepted and began the program this fall.
Recruitment and retention
We know that the more students get involved with the campus, the more likely they will be retained. ESports teams create community and help students develop the skills most sought out by today’s employers—the ability to communicate effectively and problem solve in collaborative working environments.
The addition of eSports is giving us a leg up in attracting talented students. One of our first game design students, Emily Oeser, changed her college trajectory because of our eSports offerings. Originally planning to transfer to a different school to pursue music, when SUNY Canton announced its gaming-related majors and eSports athletic teams, she decided to stay and turn her hobby into a career path. Today, she’s the captain of our varsity Overwatch team, is piloting an all-female Overwatch team, and is a leading honors student.
One of our first online gamers was Alex Royce, who played competitive League of Legends from his residence in Florida with his teammates in New York. We’ve since extended an invitation to our online community to participate on our newly established Fortnite team.
Making eSport academics a reality
Approaching eSports from both an athletics and academic perspective was a sure win for SUNY Canton, as we quickly recognized the potential of the gaming industry and the numerous positive outcomes it could have on our student body. Once that decision was made, the next step was ensuring we could support it. As with any digital initiative, having the right network infrastructure in place was critical.
We were able to move fast to implement eSports athletic teams and academic programs because of partnerships with companies including Extreme Networks. Extreme provides a high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless network to support our programs and enable flawless gaming and learning. With the support of Extreme, SUNY Canton built a dedicated eSports arena where on-campus students can convene, practice, compete, and connect with their online team members. Equipped with 24 Alienware gaming PCs and other professional gaming equipment, this will become an integral space for upperclassmen students to learn, design, and test their cutting-edge games.
As our program receives more interest and the market grows, we’ll look at integrating other majors that match well with our gaming program. One avenue is the broadcast and commentary of eSports matches. Our new eSports arena has a dedicated broadcast station where an announcer can livestream and host games over the popular platform Twitch. We’re also looking at creating additional new majors as we’ve done with Game Design and Development, including the eSports Management degree that’s on the horizon. We see eSports impacting a number of industries, and as the market develops, SUNY Canton is well-equipped to help students develop careers in this promising field.
Stay tuned for part three of this series, where Extreme Networks’ director of vertical solutions, Bob Nilsson, and SUNY Canton’s chief information officer, Kyle Brown, will delve into the technology required to build a gaming arena and support eSports programs.