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How the Rising Popularity of Esports Led to Syracuse University’s Newest Degree Program on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
Electronic sports, or esports, has seen a remarkable spike in popularity over the years, with a recent study from Pew Research finding that 90% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 play video games.
Seeking to both capitalize on the tremendous popularity of esports and continue to innovate, expand career options in emerging fields and deliver academic programs that meet its students’ needs, Syracuse University will soon begin offering a new, first-of-its-kind degree program focused on esports.
The esports communications and management program, offered jointly by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, will include three tracks:
- esports business and management, covering such topics as sport promotion, sport venue management and finance for emerging enterprises;
- esports communications, including coursework in virtual reality storytelling, esports and advertising, public relations principles and sports in the metaverse; and
- esports media and design, focused on 3D animation, game experience design and virtual production.
The University will begin enrolling students in the program in fall 2024 and is currently searching for an executive director of esports.
The program taps into the rapidly growing, multibillion-dollar esports industry, serving as a continuation of the work already happening on campus.
For nearly two years, Jeff Rubin ’95, G’98, special advisor to the chancellor on esports and digital transformation, worked alongside faculty and deans from the Falk College and Newhouse School to research and develop the hands-on, innovative program that will be dually owned and operated by both colleges.
Elaborating on the three program tracks, Rubin says, “You can take a very business-centric approach to esports. You can take a communication-centric approach, such as shoutcasting [broadcasting an esports event]. You can take a technical approach, such as game development. You could take a design-centric approach such as computer graphics or animation. We can look at esports in the metaverse—now we’re dealing with virtual reality and augmented reality.
“There’s not a mold that says when you graduate with this degree, this is where you’re going to end up. I think it’s quite the opposite. That’s why it was so important that we create those tracks, to allow students flexibility to choose the path that makes the most sense for them,” he says.
Joining Rubin on the University-wide task force charged with conducting the benchmarking that led to the creation of the esports program were:
- Olivia Stomski, professor of practice of television, radio and film and director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center;
- Chris Hanson, associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences;
- Rachel Francisco, assistant director of academic operations in the Newhouse School;
- Gina Pauline, associate professor and undergraduate director of sport management in the Falk College;
- Rick Burton, David B. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management;
- Eileen Lantier, Falk College senior associate dean; and
- Kelly Pettingill, Falk College academic operations manager.
Stomski and Hanson have co-taught the interactive and innovative Esports and Media class since 2018.
On this ’Cuse Conversation, Rubin, Stomski and Hanson reveal why the time was right for Syracuse University to add an esports degree program, share how the new academic offering will position students for success once they graduate, explain the research that went into creating this program and discuss the rapid growth of esports on campus.
01What opportunities will this create for our students, faculty and staff?
Jeff Rubin: There are tremendous research opportunities in this space. As much as we talk about how great esports are, there’s also a lot of discrimination and bias. Esports trend more toward male than female participants. When we look along the lines of gender equity and racial equity, the ethics and the accessibility of esports, it’s important to allow anybody to play regardless of cognitive or physical limitations.
These are areas where I think Syracuse University is going to excel. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) is very important to the University and this now allows us to adopt our DEIA principles and incorporate them in the esports world. Making esports accessible and inclusive is going to resonate with our students, and the addition of esports will give our students access to world-class experiences, and our faculty an opportunity for world-class research.
Olivia Stomski: One of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to host large, in-person esports competitions here on campus. Our esports teams will get to compete, and our students will be involved with the production, promotion and management of these competitions. Students will get to shoutcast and report on the events, promote the events on social media, run the cameras and handle the production side of these broadcasts.
We’re excited to give our students these hands-on experiences so when they graduate, they’ve had actual industry experience. If our students or faculty can think of it, we’ll try it if it gives our students an opportunity to get that hands-on experiential learning. That’s what sets this apart.
Chris Hanson: This is going to be a truly interdisciplinary experience for our students. We’ll be looking at how we can build games together and understand the gaming industry, and students will be able to help each other learn about the industry. Esports represents an awesome opportunity for the University to build out areas of research and expertise in the study of games, which is now one of the most dominant media industries on the planet. Esports doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and I’m excited to see where this leads Syracuse University.
02How much growth has the esports industry experienced?
Hanson: A few years before Olivia and I started teaching an Esports and Media class, I was teaching courses on games, including as part of a computer gaming minor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. My students were interested in forming a gaming club, building communities around people who are interested in playing games. So they started a registered student organization (RSO) for gaming.
Then students approached me about starting an esports RSO, and as the faculty advisor when that group started in 2018, we saw an explosive growth of the esports RSO and how popular esports had become with our students, especially the esports room in the Barnes Center. The esports RSO went from being one of the newest RSOs on campus to being one of our most popular RSOs in terms of membership. It was eye-popping how popular it’s become on campus.
Stomski: It’s really taking off—not quite doubling in size and in the amount of money that is going into the industry now, but for the first few years it nearly did double. It’s growing at quite a quick and rapid pace, partially due to the number of platforms available to our students, but also because young people have more access than ever before.
We’re seeing it grow exponentially, but where will it go from here? We’re seeing so many firsts within esports that it’s hard to say, but it has been moving at such a rapid pace that we don’t see the growth slowing down.
03Who gets credit for advancing this initiative and making it a reality for our students?
Rubin: We are the first R1 institution to have an esports major. It was because of the leadership and vision of Falk Dean Diane Lyden Murphy ’67, G’76, G’78, G’83, Newhouse Dean Mark Lodato and our subcommittee. This is the first major on campus that is dually owned, so you needed two strong leaders willing to be innovative and try something new.
Our subcommittee was incredible and they did a ton of benchmarking on this emerging industry. And then you look at the leadership from Chancellor Kent Syverud and Vice Chancellor, Provost and Chief Academic Officer Gretchen Ritter. They both thought this was an important area of growth for the University.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.