While channel surfing, you might have noticed TV channels such as ESPN broadcasting video game sports competitions, particularly more so now as the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for traditional sporting events to be held.
Esports, or electronic sports, have been around since the 1980s when students at Stanford University played Spacewar in what is believed to be the first esports tournament. Now, the competitions are gaining some official recognition in the region through two new programs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
New this fall semester, UNCW has introduced two esports certificate programs: a graduate certificate in eSports Performance, Management and Leadership and undergraduate certificate in eSports Performance and Management.
The programs, part of the Watson School of Education, are overseen by Ray Pastore, the program’s coordinator and assistant professor at the university.
The idea to start the programs arose out of the growing popularity of esports at UNCW, he said.
“I’ve been involved in competitive gaming for a number of years. It was something that I was interested in, and we had started esports on campus about a year ago, holding competitions,” Pastore said. “We have teams that compete against other universities and it’s growing very rapidly, and we have a number of students that want to work in the field and are interested in all the careers that esports offers.”
He added,“We’re offering a place for them to officially get the experience that they need to build a portfolio so they can to go out and get a job in the field.”
The programs are designed for professionals interested in a career in esports, K-12 educators looking to start an esports program in their school or district and UNCW students who are interested in gaming, streaming and exploring esports career options.
The program is the first of its kind in North Carolina and among the first in the nation, according to the university.
“We worked with students who have been working in the field. We worked with students who have been fulfilling leadership roles in esports,” Pastore said. “We worked with a professional esports team, and we also looked at the few curriculums that are out there in the field and basically between all of that and the research … [we put it] together into a standard curriculum.”
The courses in the programs are focused on different skill sets involved in esports.
There is a course on streaming for students interested in shoutcasting (or commentating), broadcasting or streaming esports on Twitch or becoming a YouTuber; a course on coaching and managing a sports team; and another on writing proposals and managing esports events that includes learning about building an arena and the technology involved, among other courses.
Pastore said the goal of the program is for students to build a portfolio and get experience in the emerging field.
“They’re learning the skills and practicing them as they go because they are going to help us run tournaments, build programs and secure funding. They’re not only going to learn how to do it, they’re going to do it for live events,” he said. “That’s going to help them when they go out to try to get a job in the field, they’re going to have real professional experience.”
Classes started at UNCW earlier this month; the esports courses were largely unaffected by distancing and safety measures set to help stop the spread of the coronavirus because they were already designed to be 100% online.
The UNCW esports certificate program has also partnered with the N.C. Azalea Festival to host a Minecraft competition, open to all ages, where participants can build a float and send a picture to enter the contest by Aug. 31.
Pastore said this partnership is a way for esports to engage with the community.
“We’re really trying to build a community base of esports in North Carolina and partnering with organizations like the Azalea Festival to hold a tournament is awesome and something we really want to be a part of,” he said.
While the coronavirus pandemic has halted many sporting events throughout the world, it might cause esports to become more mainstream.
“With an audience that’s typically used to watching something, this is what they’re going to turn to because esports is still happening,” he said.
Students looking to get into the esports field will one day have jobs currently being created today in a field that is growing, he said.
“We would love in the future,” Pastore said, “to have varsity teams, compete against the other big universities that are doing the same thing and really grow esports within Southeastern North Carolina to be known, at least within the East Coast, as a place where esports is very popular.”