(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University will be among the first universities on the West Coast to offer both an academic program and a competitive team in esports when both are launched this fall. Esports is a billion-dollar global enterprise, and the programs will position SOU students for future employment in the burgeoning industry.
The University of California, Irvine, has an existing continuing education program in esports and a growing number of universities are exploring academic or team esports programs. SOU’s academic minor in esports management will be one of just a handful nationally.
The combination of competitive esports and the academic minor may help to attract more nontraditional students to SOU, President Linda Schott said.
“By offering a new academic minor, the university can meet the needs of students and the demands of a rapidly growing industry,” the president said. “Our new esports team will provide competitive, non-traditional sports offerings to students, which has the potential to increase student recruitment, engagement and retention.”
The academic minor – offered through SOU’s Business Program – will include curriculum in business, marketing, digital media and communication. Preliminary plans for the program call for new courses including Introduction to Esports Management and Contemporary & Ethical Issues in Esports.
SOU business faculty member Jeremy Carlton is organizing the esports management minor. Students can enroll for classes that begin this fall.
“The minor will help prepare students to be an integral part of the action in a field that values quick and strategic thinking, mental agility, intellectual curiosity and creativity,” Carlton said.
The university will also open an Esports Lab in its Student Recreation Center. The lab will house multiple computer gaming stations, one of which will be reserved for streaming and esports commentating – known as “shoutcasting.” The lab will be used for intercollegiate competitions, intramural gaming and open play for all SOU students and SRC members.
The university anticipates that its intercollegiate team will compete in the Collegiate Starleague (CSL). Collegiate esports started with CSL, which hosted the first collegiate competition in 2009 and has grown to include teams from 1,800 college campuses across North America. The CSL offers leagues across several titles and platforms, for players at all skill levels.
The CSL’s leagues and tournaments award scholarships to top-rated student gamers each year, and the organization is expected to eclipse the $1 million mark in scholarships in 2020.
SOU has elected to have members of its intercollegiate team help choose which games it will play. A survey conducted earlier this year indicated that students were most interested in “Apex Legends” and “Call of Duty.”
An important focus of the SOU team will be on health and well-being.
“This is a new sport, which means we have asked our campus recreation program to ensure that our players can perform at the highest levels,” Schott said, noting that there is a wellness and physical activity component required for students who participate on the competitive team.
“Our team members will engage weekly as part of a mandatory wellness component,” she said.