It started with a suggestion from the IT department. Now it is part of the curriculum.
Lambton College is becoming a Canadian leader in the burgeoning world of esports.
The college, whose main campus is in Sarnia, Ont., has added esports to its varsity sports lineup — alongside men’s and women’s basketball and soccer — and next year will begin offering a cutting-edge two-year diploma in esports entrepreneurship and administration.
Lambton already has a dedicated gaming space — called the esports arena — with 20 high-end computers up and running. It’s in a prime piece of real estate, right in the middle of campus.
“The feedback’s been excellent, just in terms of the uniqueness of this,” says Rob Kardas, vice-president of student success and campus service at Lambton College.
Lambton believes the course is a door into the largely untapped academic world of esports and a way to differentiate itself from other schools.
Goldman Sachs valued the world of esports at US$500 million in 2016, with expected market growth of 22 per cent annually compounded over the next three years into a more than $1-billion business.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment got a first-hand look at the draw of esports when the North American “League of Legends” championship sold out the Air Canada Centre in two days in August 2016.
MLSE, owner of the NBA Raptors, subsequently signed up for the NBA 2K esports league, slated to debut in 2018.
In taking the esports course, Lambton students will study communications, sports marketing, finance, ethical leadership, teamwork, social media, health promotion, entrepreneurship and business development.
Courses will also cover the history of esports, industry hardware/software, game design and computer networking. A practical project course will ask students to use that knowledge to plan, develop and execute real-world esports projects.
The first class is expected to number some 40 students.
Graduates of the course will also have the option of continuing on to the college’s three-year sports and recreation management program.
The Lambton Lions esports teams, meanwhile, will compete against other North American schools in the Collegiate Starleague. Teams were chosen after open tryouts in “Overwatch,” “League of Legends” and “Counter Strike: Global Offensive.”
Dave Mastrobuono, a Sarnia native and Lambton graduate, has been named head coach. A former pro gamer himself, Mastrobuono is a certified service technician at the school.
College officials believe the gaming arena, which cost $140,000 to $150,000 to set up, will add to the social side of student life. It will also be open to the community.
Lambton officials visited Chicago’s Robert Morris University, a leader in the collegiate esports field and the first school to offer gaming scholarships, while putting together their program.
Robert Morris associate athletic director Kurt Melcher, Collegiate Starleague vice-president Neil Duffy, SetToDestroyX gaming team owner Charlie Watson and officials from Twitch, a popular live streaming video gaming platform, were among the industry experts who helped Lambton develop its course.
Rick Brown, a mobile device specialist in the Lambton IT department, was also a key mover in the expansion into esports.
Duffy says Lambton is the first Canadian school to make esports a varsity program, joining more than 40 schools in the U.S.
But other Canadian schools also compete in gaming tournaments. The University of British Columbia, which also has its own gaming lounge, has had great success gaming.
Lambton is using esports researcher James Kozachuk of the University of Central Florida as its “subject matter expert” in the area.
The course itself has met the necessary approval of Lambton’s board of governors, a program advisory committee of industry experts, Ontario’s Credential Validation Service and Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
It was a learning experience for the college.
Donna Church, vice-president, academic, at Lambton, says she like many parents had thought of esports as “that little troll in the basement.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said. “It’s actually a highly social sport.”
Lambton has 3,500 full-time and some 6,500 part-time students plus some 800 international students. The college is ranked No. 1 in Ontario and No. 3 in Canada in applied research, according to Research Infosource Inc.
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