A college degree in esports? Yes!
The evolution of esports has upgraded video gaming from a pastime to a potential high-tech career. And 5G could open that career door to more players.
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Ask anyone who’s passionate about video games and chances are they will admit to having daydreamed about playing games for a living.
Today, there are more opportunities than ever to turn that daydream into a reality, as esports are a potential career and a fast-growing area of study at more colleges and universities. The numbers back that up: As of August 2022, the nonprofit National Association of Collegiate Esports, the largest member association of varsity esports programs at U.S. colleges and universities, included 170 member schools and more than 5,000 students. Just as telling, there are an increasing number of scholarships focused on gamers, including the Verizon Game Forward Scholarship for female students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which commits $1 million to increase female representation in gaming and STEM careers.
Interest in these careers, and these degrees, is accelerating. And as 5G coverage expands, more college students (and potential college students) should be able to access the high speeds and low latency 5G can offer, potentially opening the door not only to an amazing gaming experience , but to a career path in a billion-dollar industry.
Esports on campus—and in life
If your memories of playing video games in college involve staring at a small TV in your dorm room, you’ll likely be more than a little jealous when you see the esports arenas and esports degrees being offered on some college campuses. Picture a large space filled with gaming computers, comfortable chairs and lighting that makes gaming an immersive experience. These arenas are used by student gamers, campus esports clubs and, at a growing number of schools, varsity esports teams.
Participating in a gaming tournament at UNC-W.
The University of Arizona, which converted its Student Union Memorial Center into an esports arena, launched Arizona Esports in 2021 to build on its thriving community of gaming enthusiasts. The university also established varsity teams to compete in several popular games—including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate—and students can now earn a minor in esports.
At the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, Professor Ray Pastore, himself a long-time gamer, wanted to gauge interest in forming an esports club on campus. Pastore expected around five students to attend the club’s inaugural meeting. “We had more than 120 students show up that day,” he says.
In 2019, UNC-W started its first esports team and, in 2020, introduced undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in esports performance and management through its Watson College of Education. Undergraduate courses include Esports Leadership, Development, and Coordination; Streaming Audio and Video for Esports and Gaming; and Esports Coaching and Team Development.
“Our esports program does several things,” Pastore says. “It teaches students about the industry, allows them to create projects that they can use as part of a work portfolio, and opens up internship possibilities for those interested in getting into the gaming and esports space.” The skill set also creates broader tech literacy, he says. “For example, the ability to stream and create content is a skill that will be beneficial for all industries going forward. Gamers just happen to be early adopters.”
“The career path for esports is similar to traditional sports. There can be esports athletes, coaches and broadcasters, for example,” Pastore continues. “There are opportunities on the business side to work in marketing or social media, or to manage tours or represent players as an agent.” Other behind-the-scenes esports roles include software development, game design, animation, artificial intelligence programming and audio engineering. “I know many students who have landed interesting, challenging jobs at high-tech companies, and they are earning great starting salaries,” he says.
A UNC-W student tests a VR headset.
Esports degrees and programs are also offered at Ohio State University, Boise State University, University of Delaware, University of California – Irvine, University of North Dakota and others. For these institutions, the programs create new channels for attracting students and position the institutions as pioneers in weaving a cultural phenomenon into their campus life and curriculum. There are also intangible benefits of school pride for students, the local community and alumni.
The 5G talent pipeline
On many college campuses, the high-speed connections required for varsity-level gaming exist only in specific locations and dedicated labs, but with 5G increasingly available, that window of opportunity should broaden. As Pastore points out, this can mean that students are no longer tethered to a particular location or system to participate in esports or practice to improve their skills.
Pastore says that the broader rollout of 5G, with its potential for high speeds and low latency, can mean more would-be esports participants can get a high-quality experience on a 5G-enabled phone, handheld console, tablet or laptop at more locations, providing more opportunities to improve their skills through practice.
“Many would-be players don’t have a gaming console, but they probably have a phone, or their parents have a phone they can play on,” Pastore says. “A powerful 5G connection could provide access for more players—and possibly open the door to an exciting and new career path for more students with interest in esports.”