COLLABORATION

More than sport: Partnership brings academic vigour to Kentucky esports

SOURCE: Unsplash
More and more universities are looking into collaborating with businesses to penetrate the growing esports market.

A collaboration between the University of Kentucky (UK) and Gen.G will look into developing a multi-faceted esports programme that will leverage technology to benefit academic, community and professional development in a booming industry.

Billed as a “first-of-its-kind”, the partnership developed through the university’s multimedia rights holder JMI Sports will look beyond the competitive aspect of the sport into areas such as its social influence and impact, and repetitive motion injuries.

Gen.G, an international esports organisation connecting the best gamers in the US and Asia, will work with the university to create new pathways for student recruitment, classroom and internship opportunities; research avenues for scholars across a variety of colleges; and professional development for alumni.

“We plan to be a leader not only in exploring the vast potential opportunities associated with esports and technology more broadly, but also the challenges posed to society,” said UK Provost David Blackwell.

“Indeed, a primary benefit of a partnership between a global leader and national research university is you can explore in-depth issues such as gender and racial equity as well as the need for more research around concerns that there are connections between gaming and societal violence.”

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Globally, the esports industry is big business, with market observers projecting it to hit US$2.2 trillion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 18.61 percent between 2018 and 2023.

Although largely dominated by the Asia Pacific, competitive gaming has also exploded in the US in recent years, as interest and audience growth spawned opportunities for revenue generation through media rights; tickets and merchandise; sponsorships; direct advertisements; and publisher fees.

According to eMarketer, digital ad revenues from esports in the US will grow 25 percent to US$178.1 million this year.

To support this growth and capitalise on a booming market, an increasing number of colleges and universities across the country are introducing new courses and programmes on the sport.

The number of institutions offering varsity esports programmes grew nearly 800 percent in two years from 2016, going from just seven to 63 institutions. This year, that number climbed even further to 130 programmes, reports say.

“As rapidly as collegiate esports is already growing, the full power of games to impact students’ lives stems from international community more than from intercollegiate rivalry,” said Gen.G Chris Park.

“We believe the best universities should invest in this vision across the world.”

With its elite range of academic offerings and internationally-recognised athletic programme, the UK is best placed to lead the way in Kentucky, he added.

Esports programmes provide an avenue for employability and professional development in the gaming industry
Universities can take a deeper look into the esports phenomenon through collaborative research to further understand it. Source: Unsplash

The UK-Gen.G partnership will focus on three key pillars, namely academic, community and professional development, with several initiatives already underway in collaboration with the university’s esports club. 

Academic Development: A series of talks featuring prominent figures from the esports and gaming industry that will be specifically catered to the students at the University of Kentucky based on their courses and majors.

The university is also looking into the possibility of developing a gaming-focused certificate programme, as well as creating new academic pathways for international students interested in esports. as well as better academic opportunities with esports through Gen.G’s Elite Sports Academy. 

Community Development: An open platform for younger students in Kentucky high schools will encourage them on future career prospects in the gaming industry; this initiative starts with a few gaming-related programming events at Big Blue Open House this autumn.

Other philanthropic and community initiatives are also in the works, including a student-run philanthropy, UK DanceBlue and Gen.G’s own initiative Player Wellness Campaign. 

Professional Development: The university has big plans to launch a leading gaming and esports university conference, with the inaugural event slotted in for Spring 2020.

This will bring together business leaders every year to explore current industry issues as well as to look into opening up employment opportunities for students in the gaming industry. 

Later this year, the Wildcat Alumni Gaming and New Media Series will be launched to connect alumni from major cities all around the country, beginning with New York City, with business leaders from the gaming and esports industry to explore professional development and employment opportunities. 

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According to a media release, the partnership is part of the Smart Campus programme, a university-wide effort to enhance teaching, learning and research with innovative technologies. Last spring, the university said the programme’s first initiative would be to provide all first-year students and many faculty members with an iPad Air, Apple keyboard and Apple Pencil.

“We view technology, not as an end, but as a tool to help us maximise the success of our students — in their educations and as they pursue all that’s possible at the University of Kentucky,” Blackwell said.

“We want to provide them tools and learning opportunities that will help them succeed at UK, but also as they pursue jobs and careers that will help them succeed throughout life.”

UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration Eric N. Monday said the partnership with Gen.G opens up more opportunities for students to explore these pursuits, using technology and gaming as a tool.

“At the University of Kentucky and at Gen.G, we view gaming, esports and technology as a lens through which prospective, recent and current UK students view their lives and opportunities for lifelong growth and development,” he said.