Participants compete in the Street Fighter V game at the Hong Kong eSports festival on Aug 26.

A LIFELONG gamer, my first experience of a video game is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System some 18 years ago.

I was young and so were video games at the time, and we have been in love since.

I’d play video games every chance I got after school and my closest friends are gamers who share the same passion for video games. The games brought the players together, either through Local Area Network parties or split-screen gaming sessions with siblings.

And video games grew with us, and with growth, comes change such as the emergence of eSports.

Today, playing games has moved beyond friendly competition between friends and siblings. The worldwide eSports audience size has grown exponentially from 2012 to 2017, with some 191 million frequent viewers, and projected numbers show that it will likely double in size in 2020. The highest earning competitive eSports player, Kuro Takhasomi, a German Dota 2 player who goes by the name KuroKy, has won more than US$3.3 million (RM14.1 million) from competitive gaming as of last month. eSports is getting very big very quickly.

But what does eSports have to do with college students? Aside from the obvious connection of how most of those involved in eSports tend to be young adults, there is an interesting paradigm shift unfolding in the countless possibilities and doors the popularity of eSports has created.

Several universities now not only hold classes related to eSports but are also actively creating their own competitive eSports teams akin to college football teams in the United States, complete with scholarships and sponsorships for prospective students.

Institutions involved in eSports include Ohio State University, Michigan State University and The University of Iowa in the United States as well as Malaysia’s Asia Pacific University (APU). APU’s eSports Academy was officiated by Higher Education Deputy Minister Mary Yap Kain Ching.

Institutions of higher learning have caught onto this growth and change in the public’s perception and acceptance of games .

Job prospects exist within the field and if universities are to continue to act as incubators to prepare students for life in the real world, it is only a logical step to offer the ability to hone their knowledge of games.

Another factor contributing to the interest is that the games industry is big business by itself, even without the eSports component.

The Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) 2015 annual report notes that in 2014, the video game industry saw US$71 billion (RM303 billion) in expenditure internationally, with US$23 billion spent by US consumers alone. The report also outlines that 90 per cent of institutions with college video game programmes also boast video game studios — a recognition of the potential for jobs in the field of creating as well as playing video games.

The world is changing, rapidly. Organisations such as the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) recognises this, and conducts research to explore these changes. It is inevitable given the introduction of any form of new technology.

The same ESA report from 2015 gives an interesting blurb in recognition of this change with respect to the unfolding paradigm shift: “According to research ESA conducted in collaboration with HEVGA, as of October 2015, there are more than 1,641 video game development studios and publishing companies operating 1,871 separate video facilities nationwide.

“In order to meet these studios’ growing demand for highly educated designers, more colleges and universities are offering degrees in game design and development. ESA and HEVGA found 406 higher education institutions are offering these degree programmes, up from 390 institutions in 2014.”

However, all these can still be met with scepticism, and for good reason; they are still new. Many questions linger when one mentions the very idea of video games as a competition among people. Scaling that up to a career is difficult to imagine if you are not familiar with video games and their competitive scene.

Parents of children, who are involved in the competitive video games community and are considering eSports as an educational path, need to better understand eSports and how it functions in tertiary institutions.

eSports education is multi-faceted, it isn’t just about playing video games all day. Similar to a college football scholarship programme, students attend classes on the technical and theoretical aspects of their field. This includes computer science, entrepreneurship, marketing and journalism — subjects with their potential career prospects. Much like the traditional sports teams, a lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into managing such groups, which requires many skills to come together to add value.

The world is changing, and society must change with it. Society needs to adapt. Institutes of learning are merely adapting to the changing world in recognition of their role in preparing students for their careers. Even as a gamer myself, I find it a little overwhelming to process the rapid changes in my beloved hobby.

I believe that if you want to do something, you should do it well and strive to be the best at it. So, if you want to play video games for a living, learn all you can about it. Go to school and learn.

There is more change coming in eSports. Paris Olympics bid committee co-president Tony Estanguet has held talks with eSports representatives and the International Olympic Committee on the inclusion of eSports in the 2024 Olympics. The Olympic Council of Asia has announced that eSports will be a part of the 2022 Asian Games in China.

Not only are more doors of possibilities going to open with eSports as a possible Olympic event, the doors will now open wider than ever before.

EMILLIO DANIEL is an adventurous English and Creative Writing student at The University of Iowa in the United States. Email him at education@nst.com.my

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