Level up! UK’s first esports degree launched

Work or play? In 2017, UK teenagers aged 12-15 spent an average of 12.2 hours per week gaming.

Is it a waste of time? Students at Staffordshire University have begun studying for a controversial new degree in esports. Meanwhile, competitive gaming is becoming bigger than ever.

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library,” historian Shelby Foote once wrote. Not any longer — as a new generation of students swap studying books for video games.

At least, that is the case for those beginning Staffordshire University’s brand new esports degree this month; the first of its kind in the UK.

Focusing on the business behind esports, its students can expect to learn how to organise video game events, create brands and build online communities.

“I won’t spend three years playing games,” insists student Danielle Morgan. “If you look back 10 years ago not many people were doing a computing degree and now everyone’s got a computing degree. The industry is rapidly growing and it is going to be the same.”

Not everyone is convinced. “Courses like computer game studies seem really attractive to young people and then they are [left] with £50,000 worth of debt and are unemployable,” claims Chris McGovern, chairman of The Campaign for Real Education.

Whether he is right remains to be seen, but what cannot be doubted is the staggering growth of esports in recent years.

Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden NFL, Overwatch — huge international competitions in video games like these are worth big money. Analysts think the industry as a whole will be worth £1.3 billion by 2021.

As a result, extraordinary riches await the best players. This year’s Dota 2 championship had a total prize pool of over £19 million. That was double the money on offer at the US Open golf championship, and far more than at the Tour de France.

Esports events have a huge following too. More than 100 million people tuned into the 2017 League of Legends World Championship — almost on par with the Super Bowl’s audience and over 10 times that of the Wimbledon tennis championships.

And now heads are turning in the most venerable sporting bodies. Organisers of the Paris Olympics may include esports as a demonstration event in 2024.

Is a degree in esports a waste of time?

Game on

Of course not, some argue. Its critics need to be more open-minded. Esports is going to revolutionise entertainment and sport, and its power grows every year. Young people must future-proof their education by acquiring skills in innovative growth industries. Esports fits the bill, and courses like this are a sign of things to come.

An absolute waste, others respond. In terms of university, traditional subjects are still the most worthwhile — skills in maths, science, English or languages can be applied in countless industries. Students should consider apprenticeships too. Esports is a fun hobby; it is not worth staking your future education and career on.

You Decide

  1. Are video games a sport?
  2. Is university worth it?

Activities

  1. In a few years time, esports could become an Olympic event. Write down three reasons why this would be a good thing, and three reasons why it would be a bad thing. Overall, do you think esports should be in the Olympics?
  2. What would you like to do as a career? Write down your three top choices. Do some research and find out the typical path into these careers. For each one, is it necessary to go to university? If so, what courses would you need to take? Would you like to go to university?

Some People Say...

“Video games are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do. Real brains don’t do that.”

Ray Bradbury

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Esports is most popular among young people. A 2018 Washington Post poll found that 58% of 14 to 21-year-olds said they watched or recorded videos of people playing competitive video games. The new esports degree is partly a response to government attempts to grow esports in the UK. “Anything that can help the UK establish itself as a centre for this exciting industry should be celebrated,” said Ed Vaizey MP.
What do we not know?
If esports will be able to grow to a size comparable with other major sports leagues. In North America, its annual revenue of $345 million (£262 million) is still dwarfed by the massive takings of the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) — $14 billion (£10.6 billion) and $10 billion (£7.6 billion) respectively.

Word Watch

£1.3 billion
According to market research company Newzoo.
Dota 2
A multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA). Dota 2 matches involve two teams, each defending their own base on the map. Each player controls a character — known as a “hero” — who has its own unique abilities.
Tour de France
A 21-day cycle race covering more than 2,000 miles of mountainous terrain in France and nearby countries. This year’s race was won by Welshman Geraint Thomas, and the overall prize pool was under £2 million.
Tuned into
Esports secures its massive audiences by broadcasting tournaments for free over internet streaming sites. A large proportion of this audience is located in China.
Demonstration event
Used to promote unusual sports at the Olympic Games. It is common for demonstration events to become official events in later Games. This was the case for badminton, judo and volleyball.

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