Nov 29 2016

Universities Embrace eSports as a High-Tech Pastime

A new lab at UNLV highlights the importance of gaming to millennials.

Look out baseball, football and basketball — you’ve got some competition.

For some millennials, watching eSports — like League of Legends and Starcraft — is just as popular as baseball. A survey from digital gaming industry website Newzoo found that 22 percent of males aged 21 to 35 watch eSports, making competitive video gaming as popular as America’s national pastime for that cohort.

With universities as prestigious as Harvard launching eSports clubs, it’s clear that those in higher education are taking note of the popularity of video gaming. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) has tossed its hat into the eSports ring, but not to compete.

It was announced this past summer that UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, which is a source of research and innovation into casino gaming, would be launching an eSports lab, with corresponding coursework geared to “explore facets of eSports and produce presentations and business plans relevant to the casino industry.”

Robert Rippee, the director of the lab, says that eSports was a natural fit for the institute and that many resort casinos have requested more insight into how competitive gaming might work for them.

“eSports has had explosive growth globally and we are paying attention to that and seeing how [casinos] can change their business strategies to incorporate that,” Rippee says.

The lab will provide collaborative space and classes to UNLV students from a variety of disciplines, and will be outfitted with PCs and gaming consoles. While there, Rippee says students will study the games themselves and the platforms that are used to create tournaments.

The students will work on designing competitive events and improving experience models, as well as developing and testing hypothetical business models for casinos.

The lab is slated to open this coming spring. Brett Abarbanel, the director of research at the gaming institute, told gambling and casino industry news outlet Yogonet that the eSports lab will be housed within UNLV’s Konami Gaming Laboratory, which has a mock casino floor alongside classrooms.

“Much of the casino equipment will stay as part of the mix, and the space will be convertible to classroom space, making the lab home to one of the most technologically advanced ‘classrooms’ on campus,” Abarbanel says.

Abarbanel also says the institute will be working closely with UNLV’s eSports club, 8-bit, to host tournaments and game play regularly.

Capitalizing on Rising Video Game Popularity

Devoting a whole realm of study to competitive gaming is not surprising, given its popularity. The Newzoo survey found that video game live-streaming services, like Twitch, have more than 100 million unique viewers each month. Twitch capitalized on this demand in 2014 when it was sold to Amazon for $970 million.

Other universities, like Maryville University in St. Louis, have seen the demand for video game competition and have created club-level teams.

The University of California, Irvine launched an eSports initiative this fall — granting up to 10 academic scholarships to students on the school’s competitive video gaming team — and opened an eSports arena outfitted with 80 high-power gaming PCs and a live webcasting studio, eCampus News reported.

“We hope to attract the best gamers from around the world, and our academic programs in computer gaming science, digital arts, computer science, engineering, anthropology, law, medicine, neuroscience and behavior create a strong foundation for research and inquiry related to gaming,” Thomas Parham, UCI’s vice chancellor for student affairs, told eCampusNews.


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