The esports industry is enormous globally and growing exponentially in the U.S. And colleges and universities are looking to learn how to prepare students for careers in this hot new field.
Enter Emerson College, which is hosting its first College Esports Expo Thursday, April 5. The first part of the event will be a series of panels and speakers from the esports arena, being held from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm in the Semel Theater. Then, the action moves to the Bordy Theater, which will be set up as a gaming zone with exhibitions of collegiate competition in Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch, and more. The expo is free with registration.
“We just want to put Emerson at the forefront of the collegiate esports movement, both on the academic side and clubs,” said Kevin Mitchell, an executive at National Amusements and an affiliated faculty member teaching esports in Emerson’s Sports Communication major.
Esports is the competitive play of video games, and is already a $6 billion industry globally, Mitchell said. In the U.S., professional esports is estimated to grow to $2 billion by 2020, and upwards of 50 colleges and universities in the country have varsity or club esports teams, with the largest being at University of California-Irvine and the University of Utah.
But the industry is already facing challenges in hiring the right people to produce these competitions, Mitchell said, because the jobs require a combination of traditional media/production skills with a knowledge and feeling for esports.
Emerson is one of only a handful of institutions offering courses tailored to the industry, and is the only college to offer pre-college programs in esports to high school students, which will run this summer, Mitchell said.
Whether it’s how to start a collegiate esports team without ruffling athletic department feathers, to teaching the business of esports in classrooms, higher ed institutions are looking for information, he said.
“I said, ‘We need to take the lead on doing this,’” Mitchell said, “and I felt it was important to do now.”
The College Esports Expo is coinciding with (but not affiliated with) PAX East, a large gaming convention being held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Panelists, including academics, coaches, administrators, and executives from the industry, will touch on topics dealing with the administrative and curricular side of the business. They will offer topics on forming esports campus clubs, varsity esports leagues, starting a channel on streaming platform Twitch Student, and the future of esports media. Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball, advisor of Emerson College Polling, will join a panel of experts on esports data and research to talk about his group’s findings on esports.
Later, in the Bordy, attendees can watch esports competitions, including a viewing party for a match between Boston Uprising, Robert Kraft’s Overwatch League team, and the Philadelphia Fusion.
The Expo was organized in large part through Emerson’s Esports Management class, said event chair Aaron Van Leesten ’19, who is also co-president of the Emerson College Esports organization, the College’s esports club.
Van Leesten, a Media Arts Production major, said the types of skills that Emerson traditionally teaches—media production, marketing, communications, journalism—are directly applicable to the business of esports.
“I hope [the College Esports Expo] becomes an annual event that positions Emerson College as a central institution, in not just esports, but collegiate esports specifically,” Van Leesten said. “As the field develops over the next five to ten years, we hope Emerson becomes an established player.”