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  • Writer's pictureGrant Vassos

Esports U: Competitive Gaming as a Career

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

August 5, 2018

An image of one of Tespa Carleton's jersey's. Tespa Carleton is Carleton University's first ever esports club. (Photo: Grant Vassos)

James Kozachuk still remembers being at a breakfast social with various faculty members to celebrate the launch of Lambton College’s first esports arena.


It was there where he would hear the first announcement about bringing competitive video gaming to Lambton’s classrooms.


He glanced around the table, and could see familiar faces at every corner. From the president of the college, the athletic administrator, and even people involved in the research process. Everyone was being represented.


Next Fall, Lambton College will officially unveil Canada’s first ever esports entrepreneurship and administration program. The course is set to officially begin this Fall and will be listed as a two-year academic diploma program.


“Everybody was in that room. They were all interested and really, really excited about it.” Kozachuk said. “ I can't really say that there was too much of a pushback... But I wouldn't expect there to have been. Given what I saw and what I've heard.”


Based out of Sarnia, Ont., the entrepreneurship and administration course will focus more on the business and the economic side of the esports industry, with the hope it will be able to provide students with a similar skill set to that of traditional sports management programs.


“When you’re a graduate or a current student in esports, it’s not just about the video game,” said Lambton I.T. marketing manager Lori Atkin. “It’s about marketing yourself if you want to start streaming yourself, and using yourself as a business tool. You have to learn how to sell that.”


The idea to create a collegiate esports course came about when Atkin and her colleagues were analyzing statistics and trends from the esports industry.


It was at that point where they uncovered a burgeoning industry within esports, and a market other Canadian universities had yet to take advantage of.


Right off the bat, Atkin needed to enlist a subject matter expert with extensive knowledge of the esports industry to help develop a curriculum draft.


After speaking with representatives from Chicago’s Robert Morris University and the University of California Irvine, Atkin came across James Kozachuk, a Canadian esports researcher at the University of Central Florida.


Despite being born and raised in Sarnia, Ont., Kozachuk was almost denied the opportunity to be Lambton’s subject matter expert. Prior to speaking with Kozachuk, Lambton reached out to his friend Kurt Melcher to hear his thoughts about their proposal.


Melcher was a co-founder of Robert Morris’ collegiate exports program: one of the first universities in North America to adopt a varsity esports team. After speaking with both candidates about the opening, Lambton opted to recruit Kozachuk as there subject matter expert partly due to his hometown roots.


“They asked him to be that subject matter expert,” Kozachuk said. “But truthfully, they needed a Canadian,” he added laughing.


Yvonne Clarke, Dean of the School of Business at Lambton College, has been a key advocator in bringing esports to Lambton’s curriculum and has noticed the program gaining enormous attention from opens houses and promotional events.


While the excitement for competitive gaming at Lambton has been widely accepted by faculty and students alike, there is still the challenge of trying to educate people who believe esports to be nothing more than game design and computer programming.


Those who have been introduced to the industry, however, are well aware of the benefits it could have on the future of the marketing industry.


“I have a feeling that the esports industry is going to teach a lot of us how to market their businesses differently,” Clarke said. “A lot of us will catch up with some of the things they’re doing early on, especially some old school businesses.”


Although parents have been acceptive in understanding the business behind esports and potential jobs available through the industry, Clarke admits how many remain leery as to whether enrolling in a competitive gaming program will be the best decision for their children.


Perhaps the most important feature available for students will be the course’s accessibility and accommodation. An aspect of the program which has differentiated Lambton from other traditional sports and communication programs in Canada.


“There’s a lot of people who have loved traditional sports and played traditional sports, but traditional sports often leaves some people out of the mix,” Clarke said. “The thing with esports is it's not gender specific and if you have some accessibility issues or complications, you can still be involved actively in the sport.”


Atkin says the course has been getting great feedback from other collegiate varsity programs in the United States, and have received strong interests from partners in the esports industry about possibly hiring their students for co-op or internship opportunities.


For students who feel like esports may not be the right career for them, Lambton has included a university transfer agreement with the program which will allow students to maintain earned credits in the process.


“It’s very, very much student focused. It has been since day one,” Atkin said. “We really wanted to be able to offer this different demographic of students an option to be able to participate in a varsity esports environment.”


The impressive rise of the esports industry over the last few years has also sparked a debate about whether competitive gaming should be treated the same way as traditional varsity sports.


Robert Oles, a third-year public affairs student at Carleton University, has been the president of Tespa Carleton since he helped co-found the club on August 2016. (Photo: Grant Vassos)

According to NewZoo’s 2018 Global Esports Markets Report, the global esports revenue will reportedly reach $905.6 million by the end of this year, nearly a 27.6 percent increase from esports total revenue from last year.


NewZoo also expects the global esports audience to hit over 380 million fans throughout 2018, with esports enthusiasts and fans making up 43.4 percent of their total audience.


“It is still growing rapidly,” Kozachuk said. “The amount of people that are are getting involved and finding out about this and finding it interesting. Gaming is basically the national pastime in the States and Canada in my mind. At least especially with young adults.”


With Lambton College pioneering the way for students looking to find a career working in the esports industry, the question remains whether other universities will follow suit and mimic their structure.


As of today, there are currently 58 varsity esports programs active in Canada and the United States, with Lambton College being the sole Canadian representative. Most of the varsity programs in the U.S. have also introduced partial scholarships in order to attract young esports candidates to their university.


“There's a number of these kind of programs being developed,” Kozachuk said. “And then from there, there's always people trying to...There's always colleges that are looking to kind of put themselves in the forefront of their industries. I wouldn't be surprised if more got involved.”


Robert Oles, a third-year public affairs student at Carleton University, is no stranger to helping people get involved with the Canadian esports industry. Oles serves as the president and co-founder of Carleton’s esports club, Tespa Carleton, and is currently in the process of making a proposal to make esports a varsity team.


While his excitement for Lambton’s esports diploma program is contagious, Oles sees no reason why other Canadian universities and colleges should not consider the possibility of creating similar esports courses for their curriculum.


“I think universities are kind of catching up and saying like: ‘hey, this is an industry that is hiring, and they’re looking for young students,’” Oles said. “They’re looking for young people. That is their target.”


After starting Tespa Carleton in 2016, Oles had very slim expectations of being able to recruit students to join his group. His expectations would lead to a surprising result, as he and his fellow partner James Fitzgerald were able to grow the esports club to 270 members by the end of their first year. Today, the club has over 900 registered members.


“Right now they just don't get it. Which is fine,” Oles said. “And that's what programs like what we run where what we're trying to do is we're trying to bring in people and show them like: 'hey, this is what we're all about, this is what esports is.’”


With an industry constantly on the move and growing exponentially by the year, only time will tell whether esports will have a future in post-secondary classrooms.


“We can't predict what it will look like even six months from now. But for right now, we're happy with our decision,” Atkin said. “And I think our students are happy and the people that have come to Lambton specifically for this are excited about it because it is being offered now in Ontario and Canada.”

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