It was only last year that I predicted colleges would want to eventually integrate academics with their esports programs. I thought UCI was ahead of the game as they have a for credit class that deals with esports as well as a Twitch streaming workshop. Last week Becker College announced an esports management degree, rocketing Becker College to the front of college esports news as America’s first esports focused degree. When I saw the headline I immediately reached out to Alan Ritacco, the Dean of the School of Design and Technology at Becker to learn everything I could about this revolutionary program. To Alan, collegiate esports is “an evolution that Becker College is a revolutionary in.” I wanted to know, why Becker? Becker only recently got involved with collegiate esports and they’re not a very big school. I would’ve thought Robert Morris, the first school to give scholarships for an esports varsity team, or UC Irvine would’ve been the first to have this sort of degree program. Well, as Alan said, “it all depends on the administration.” Becker College already had a world class game design program, so they were no strangers to the gaming world, and by extension, the esports industry. Being a small school actually has benefits as well. Although UC Irvine is located in the esports capital of North America, have top ranked varsity programs, and are well connected, they have yet to have a formalized esports degree program. The size difference between UCI and Becker may hold the secret. Becker being a smaller school may mean it’s faster moving with less bureaucracy. This comes from my conversation with the small Eugene, Oregon based Northwest Christian University who is developing an esports varsity program and building an arena. They’re located just two blocks from the large D1 school University of Oregon. When asked why they have a better esports program than their much larger neighbors, they cited a smaller and faster moving administration as one reason.
Hopefully other hopeful esport schools can see this as motivation to start developing their own academic programs. Only time will tell how successful Becker’s program will be, but with their track record in game development and their connections to the industry (a board member of theirs is a founder of GamerSensei), it’s looking like they have all the right pieces. This degree is another step forward in legitimizing esports as more than just a hobby, or tool to compete with other schools at, but a legitimate industry that needs more talented and educated individuals.