Esports Initiatives Underway, Two Academic Business Programs to Launch in Fall 2021

Apr 20, 2021

by Greg Williams
Senior Writer

Expanding opportunities for student involvement is a familiar trend at Florida Southern College. Underway for fall 2021 in the field of esports is the introduction of two new academic programs in the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise.

Barnett Business School will offer both an undergraduate minor and a Master of Business Education (MBA) concentration on career-focused topics related to competitive gaming, a significant addition to FSC’s earlier and growing investments in esports through its nationally recognized varsity-level teams and cutting-edge gaming facilities for members of the campus community.

Industry-specific curriculum for each of the approved courses (The Business of Gaming, Esports Tournament Design, Esports Sponsorship Activation, and Esports Fan Engagement) will explore current trends and best practices while continually monitoring changes in the dynamically developing field.

“Florida Southern has made a pioneering commitment to collegiate esports, which will enter an exciting new phase with the development and pending launch of our business minor and MBA concentration,” says Dr. Michael Weber, dean of the Barnett Business School. “We recognize the high degree of interest in all aspects of online gaming within the campus community and among our next generation of students, and we are thrilled to build career pathways that will prepare our future alumni to work and thrive in the world of esports.”

Content for both the minor and MBA courses initially will be delivered via online classes by sports management faculty members and outside experts, according to Dr. Weber: “Because the esports industry is completely online and virtual, it makes sense to deliver the curriculum in that same modality. We offered the Business of Gaming course as an experimental course this spring, and the registration was completely full. Watching the growth trends in this fledgling industry and seeing the active engagement of our students, we began to ask what we could supply academically. With the expertise of our sports management faculty, I could barely get the words out:  ‘Are you interested in developing an esports …’ — and their answer was ‘YES!’”

Dr. Weber adds that students majoring in sports business management will be able to take the new courses as electives toward their major.

Don Marinelli, director of innovation for Inven Global Esports as well as an international consultant and lecturer, will assist FSC’s faculty in developing the academic curriculum. Marinelli says Data Bridge Market Research has projected that esports in the United States  — roughly a $1 billion industry in 2019  —  will grow to $4.28 billion by 2027, adding that FSC’s distinctive graduate programs in business administration and education are perfectly suited to spearhead this next stage in the evolution of competitive gaming.

Mocs Esports, which launched its varsity team play in spring 2018, has qualified to compete in the 2021 North American College League of Legends Championship finals.

“CNBC reports that young gamers between the ages 18 to 25, known as digital natives, watch 34 percent more esports than traditional sports,” says Marinelli. “For them, inclusion of esports into the academic and social life of an educational institution will become a primary consideration.”

Florida Southern has been an early adopter and leader in esports, launching the overall effort in November 2017, with its first varsity match taking place in spring 2018. FSC was the first school in Florida to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the governing body for competitive collegiate video gaming in North America, and is now in its third year of membership.

In the process of teaching the College’s first experimental Business of Gaming course during the 2021 spring semester, Dr. Nick Nugent has become increasingly aware of the career potential offered by esports. The industry has exploded, he says, and continues to explode, offering the same great opportunities as other established sports, which go far beyond the prospect of becoming a professional player.

“You can work with teams, with brands, events, or products,” says Dr. Nugent, assistant professor of business and economics in FSC’s sports business management program. “It’s a great equalizer, one of the few sports that everyone can play, and there’s no one type of game; there really is something for everybody. Students who are passionate about esports now have an opportunity to get passionate in the classroom, and students who are passionate in the classroom are always more productive.”

Ross Jones, a senior from Lexington, Kentucky, took Dr. Nugent’s “experimental” class as an elective this semester, purely out of a personal interest in the topic. He appreciated the ways in which the class focused on the trajectory of the esports industry and the business opportunities that esports presents, going forward.

“For anyone who’s interested in a career in esports, it’s important to jump on board early,” Jones said, “because of how much the industry is expected to grow in the next five to ten years.”

In addition to being on the forefront of this rapidly developing career field, students in FSC’s new courses will have the chance to explore the campus esports scene across three major areas of their campus experience: through gaming-themed academic offerings; through varsity-level teams that compete on the national stage; and through community-focused gameplay in state-of-the-art campus facilities. They can become involved as players, spectators, or via supporting roles related to production, marketing, announcing, etc., during varsity or in-house tournaments, watch parties, and events. Few other colleges or universities in the U.S. currently provide opportunities for students to participate in the esports scene in all these areas.

Florida Southern competes in the Peach Belt Conference, with separate varsity teams for the League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Hearthstone video games. The college recently hired two highly experienced industry professionals as remote head coaches: Elliott “Hayes” Hayes coaches the Overwatch team, and Austin “Gate” Yu coaches League of Legends. In April, FSC's League of Legends team finished in second place in their conference, qualifying for the first time as one of 32 schools to compete in the 2021 North American College League of Legends Championship Tournament finals. The Mocs Esports team faced The State University of New York at Buffalo in their first round of play on May 1, losing the best-of-three matchup to UBuffalo Esports.