Shenandoah University hits ‘start’ button on esports

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SU's esports degree will prepare students for future sports
management careers, says Joey Gawrysiak. Courtesy SU

Joey Gawrysiak knows he is moving into uncharted territory in preparing students to manage the business of esports.

“This is all extremely new,” says Gawrysiak, director of sports management at Shenandoah University. “People liken it to the Wild West.”

Starting this fall, the Winchester-based university will be one of the first higher-education institutions in the United States to offer multitrack bachelor’s degrees in esports. These competitive, multiplayer video games are played by nearly half a million people worldwide, according to games market analyst Newzoo, which predicts the industry will generate $152.1 billion globally this year.

Even though video games are fun, the business is serious, Gawrysiak says.

“There’s a real misconception. This is not a degree or a major where we are teaching kids how to play video games. But because [the degree program] is so new, some parents think that their student is going to be in a classroom learning how to play video games.”

Instead, he explains, Shenandoah will prepare students to enter the new and growing industry, not so different from sports management in the early ’70s. Professional esports players now earn millions of dollars in contracts and prize money, “so it needs people who are trained to run it like a business,” Gawrysiak says. “It’s one [business] that really doesn’t have anybody working in it … [who has] studied it or been trained.”   

Along with the new degree program, Shenandoah is in the process of retooling the Winchester Armory, turning it into a state-of-the-art esports arena with completion scheduled this fall. The university also sponsored a two-day esports summit in September with the Virginia High School League, which is introducing a pilot esports program in high schools statewide. 

Basically, it’s a group of students playing video games in classrooms after school. Darrell Wilson, VHSL’s assistant director for activities, says it’s not “fully sanctioned,” but schools will be able to give feedback on the program.

“There have been a few schools over the years with [videogaming] clubs, and there are about 30 right now, but we felt that this was the right time to strike,” Wilson says. “It’s an opportunity to have this in a supervised, nurturing, educational environment where they can learn and grow, using an activity that they love — just like a basketball team or debate team.”

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