American teenagers love gaming. How can universities and colleges capitalize on the potential that video games — or Esports — hold to increase and diversify enrollment?
Drew Boehm, Assistant Director for Esports at University of Texas, Arlington (UTA), joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the massive growth of Esports and its potential in higher ed for enrollment, athletics, and academics.
What’s the Potential for Esports in Higher Ed?
The value of the Esports industry comes in at nearly a billion dollars today, and it’s expected to double by 2022. But the value isn’t only financial. It’s cultural as well. The first varsity Esports program at a university popped up around 2013. Now the concept is growing exponentially with well over 100 programs and more coming almost every single week.
“What’s really neat is the way competitions work,” Drew said. Although there aren’t a lot of divisions the way there are in football or basketball, there is a great deal of potential for universities to play people that they might not have played competitive sports in the past.
And Esports attracts a lot of those nontraditional students. It’s logical. After all, traditional sports have attracted students to university campuses for a long time, but Esports brings a new brand of students who can now compete at what they love doing at a higher level. And at UTA, Esports operates at a much higher level.
“There’s university support, university backing,” Drew explained. “We have official practices. We have team jerseys.”
Plus, Arlington holds the largest Esports stadium in the world, and while the university is building a facility on campus, Drew’s team has been boot-camping over there.
“They have some spaces we’ve been using for our official practices,” Drew said. It’s a great opportunity for UTA to create a new civic partnership.
UTA hosted the Battle4Texas, an Overwatch tournament that had teams from all over the state participate in person, playing on the stage at the university. The UTA stadium also hosted the Esports Awards, which featured some of the biggest names out there.
“It’s really neat being right next door to such a massive place that has a large influence in the Esports world,” Drew said.
Academic Integration of Esports
UTA offers an Esports certificate that students can earn if they take the required number of courses within certain disciplines. It’s an official certificate from the university, something that graduates can put on their resume.
In addition, one of UTA’s departments also offers an Esports Management Certificate plus the Department of Continuing Education has a program in Esports.
“I know outside of those two certificates,” Drew said, “they also were talking about putting together some sort of minor or major in Esports in the future as well.”
The Future of Esports in Higher Education
“Every single week you can see more universities starting to hop onto this,” Drew told us. “But at UTA specifically, I want to continue ramping it up and having continued success in terms of competition, fostering community, and having a really strong programs.”
Actually, UTA’s program was a success story right off the bat. The university’s varsity team made it to the playoffs, top 16, and that competition streamed on Twitch in front of tens of thousands of viewers.
Now, Drew is working on continuing that success, fostering the community, and getting even better known throughout the state and even the country.
“As time goes on, I definitely can see us continuing to grow and be successful,” he said.
Next Steps to Getting Started with Esports
Just how big of an enrollment growth opportunity is out there for institutions who commit to leading on the esports path?
According to Drew, a huge opportunity.
“Even for larger universities, especially ones that are really competitive, you get a lot of people that are interested,” he told us. “I have people reach out to me on a pretty much daily basis, asking about the program and how they can get involved.
If you’re looking at starting a program, get someone who’s passionate about eSports and knows the field. A lot goes on behind the scenes, which make the job complicated for someone gaming culture or how the field works.”
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.