U. New Haven's esports program fills a gap at the business school

An audience gathers for a competitive gaming event in Detroit. (Stem List / Unsplash)

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Capitalizing on a growing $1 billion industry fueled in part by the pandemic’s quarantine restrictions, the University of New Haven last month launched an online master’s degree program in esports business.

While a handful of well-known universities — including Ohio State University, George Mason University and University of Texas at Arlington — already offer programs teaching students business skills to enter the competitive gaming industry, administrators at the University of New Haven said their new program is the first master’s degree of its kind in North America and the first that can be completed entirely online. (And at 33 credits, the university also says it can be comfortably completed within a year.)

Jason Chung, an assistant professor at New Haven who’s leading the program, told EdScoop that programs like this one can fill a skills gap that he noticed while attending esports conferences and speaking with industry executives.

“What became apparent is that they had a lot of trouble finding qualified people because esports is a little bit unique in the sense it’s an amalgamation of sports, tech and entertainment,” Chung said. “People come from all different backgrounds and people who understood the culture of all of them, they weren’t as abundant as people in the industry wanted.”

Long dismissed as merely a nerdy hobby, video games have grown into a global industry that last year generated an estimated $159 billion to $180 billion in revenue, exceeding the market value of the global film industry and the North American sports industries combined. The esports industry, which is pushed along by some 17,000 active players, was evaluated at around $1 billion last year, with some estimates projecting growth to $1.6 billion by 2023.

In addition to its new master’s program, New Haven also offers undergraduate degrees and minor certification in esports. Chung said that specialized degrees like these — and those in health care, for example — are needed to train students in the particular skills needed to navigate a given industry’s quirks. The University of New Haven’s program is planned to include tight connections to the industry, including instructors who work in esports themselves.

“I think what people are finding is traditional management techniques don’t work across all sectors evenly,” Chung said. “And understanding the culture and background and the assumptions made by people in that industry are critical to succeeding in this space. That’s really where we’re trying to fill in the gaps.”

A common question from students, Chung said, is whether they need to be skilled at video games to pursue a career in esports. Citing himself as “the world’s worst Counter-Strike player,” and as an obligatory StarCraft fan, as a man of Korean heritage — his nod to South Korea’s national obsession with the Blizzard real-time strategy franchise that helped fuel the esports industry in the early 2000s — he said he always assures students that gaming skills are not required.

“I don’t know how well [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver plays basketball — maybe he’s very good at it — but I guarantee you he’s not doing it at a level the NBA players are doing it,” Chung said. “It’s all about understanding the business and the ecosystem rather than being good at the actual event.”

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