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DCE Magazine

How ‘Warcraft’ Changed the World

Summer 2017

Esports has become a global sensation with big league opportunities.

Overview of Esports course now open for winter quarter 2018 enrollment, learn more here.

Teams of highly trained collegiate competitors battle it out in arenas full of cheering fans, while others follow the action at home, on major networks like ESPN. Sounds like March Madness or the College Football Playoffs — but there's not a ball, basket or facemask to be found.

We're talking esports, a fast-growing phenomenon with teams testing their skills playing “Heroes of the Storm,” “League of Legends” and other popular videogame titles, in a live venue or remotely from thousands of miles away. And it's positively booming, wildly popular with the college crowd and quickly becoming a global force.

Around a dozen universities, including UC Irvine, field teams and host events. Players from over a thousand schools, and millions of players worldwide, compete through networks and streaming services like Tespa and Twitch.

“Esports is the merging of three worlds: sports, entertainment and technology. And it's on an impressive growth trajectory by almost all accounts,” said Adam Rosen, president and co-founder of college gaming network Tespa, as well as advisory board member for DCE's proposed esports certificate program. “For major events, we're already seeing viewership rival that of traditional sports. Packed stadiums, enthusiastic fans, and top-notch entertainment quality are quickly becoming the norm.”

Given the remarkable growth in the past year, Rosen believes it's only a matter of time before esports is the world's number-one pastime. If that sounds extreme, take a closer look.

According to Newzoo Global Market Research, the esports market grew by 41.3% over the past year to $696 million, with projected revenue up to $1.5 billion by 2020. Leagues and teams are multiplying so fast, it's impossible to keep track.

“Thanks to the accessibility of digital competition and broadcasts, an argument can be made that esports is far more global than traditional sports, allowing fans to engage at any level from any corner of the world,” Rosen said. “That said, the industry is still young and has plenty of room for eager entrepreneurs to carve out a space to thrive.”

Clearly this nascent industry has potential for exponential growth, fueling a need not only for entrepreneurs but stakeholders at every level, from league and team management to event production and game design.

That's the idea behind the DCE's esports certificate program, which aims to provide a comprehensive look at the business and art of the sport, with an eye to developing talent for future innovation.

Mastering the game

Still under development with an anticipated launch in the second half of 2017, the certificate program is designed to lay the groundwork for a career in esports. Led by industry professionals, it examines the structure, stakeholders and business aspects of organized esports, along with a look at the skills and background required to get in the game on a number of levels.

Curriculum is guided by an expert advisory board that includes Adam's brother Tyler Rosen, also president and co-founder of Tespa. Both serve as esports directors for industry giant Activision Blizzard, home to iconic titles like “Call of Duty,” “Heroes of the Storm” and “Overwatch,” which has its own thriving international league.

“There are so many ways to participate in esports, from league design and operations to broadcast production, team management, business development, event production, technology, marketing and promotion,” Rosen said. “I'd recommend for students to pick an area that interests them.”

As the sport grows there will be increasing demand for business managers and talent agents, said Mark “Garvey” Candella, director of strategic partnerships for Twitch, a popular esports streaming provider — sort of a Netflix for esports.

Content creation is also on the rise, and broadcasters will need people “with creativity and appropriate skill sets to help them further develop their content strategies. The potential is really only limited by not supporting students as they innovate and create a sustainable industry by applying themselves while in school,” Candella added.

The DCE offers a number of other courses in project management, business and IT that can provide additional background for a successful career in esports.

From Pac-Man to StarCraft

We've certainly come a long way from the Nintendo Gameboy. But the origins of esports go back even further, to the days of arcade games.

“In one form or another, esports has been around for decades,” Candella said. “I believe the spectator experience was established during the days of arcades, when we would stack quarters on the screen to call next and then stand around and watch everyone playing until it was your turn.”

Organized competitions came along in the ‘90s, with events such as the Nintendo World Championships. Growing broadband networks gave birth to online tournaments a decade later — players battling it out on “World of Warcraft” and other popular titles. But organized team competitions didn't begin to boom until quite recently.

“It's only in the last five years or so that it has reached critical mass and grown into a persistent cultural phenomenon,” Rosen said. “A lot of this has been driven by the advent of online streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which have transformed it into a global spectator sport.”

A turning point in the trajectory of esports was the 2015 launch of Heroes of the Dorm, a collegiate league that offered full tuition for the winning team. The finals event was broadcast nationally on ESPN — the first time esports was showcased on a major network.

The event sparked a national dialog over esports’ credibility as a legitimate sport, Rosen said. “One side declared it too different, knew it wasn't ‘sports,’ and spoke out against it. The other side had found the relatability of college sports teams an easy hook, and even if they didn't yet fully understand the game, they wanted to see more.”

They sure did. Tespa hosts players from about 1,200 colleges, and streaming platforms like Twitch.tv — through its Twitch Student program which provides universities with their own team page and partnered network — are practically ingrained in campus with games like “DotA 2” and StarCraft.”

Now the collegiate esports community strives for the same recognition and level of esteem granted to traditional sports, with universities, including UCI, offering scholarships and recruiting elite players. UCI even has its own esports Arena, the first of its kind at a major university.

“Esports has been growing steadily on college campuses for the last decade,” Rosen said. “And it will soon be synonymous with the college experience.”

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/esports