Esports: More than a game, it could be a dream job

Collegiate esports programs are expanding from extracurricular activities into exciting career opportunities.

By Stephanie Walden — April 5, 2022

Alexandra Warren-Carrasco has been an avid League of Legends player for years. Throughout high school and later, community college, the virtual world was an important social outlet for her. But when she transferred to California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), which offers an esports club, she realized her love of gaming could open up a new world of possibilities not just for social connections, but for her career.

“[The club] really engaged me in the school,” she says. “That in turn made me want to build a community here — and to help make sure that others could get that same experience.”

Within months, she ended up as the president of the CSUDH Esports Association, managing several competitive teams, hosting and speaking at events, and developing strategies for growing club membership. She also parlayed her love of gaming into product specialist roles at the esports consulting company Esport Supply and now at HyperX, a gaming peripherals company recently acquired by HP — experiences that could lead to more professional opportunities after graduation.

Esports, or electronic sports, are big business today, with projected revenues of $1.8 billion in 2022. Insider Intelligence reports there will be more than 29 million monthly esports viewers in the US by the end of 2022, an 11.5% uptick from 2021. 

Pro gamers now have the potential to earn more than winners of Wimbledon, but there are also lucrative job opportunities off the virtual field — roles that make the gameplay possible, like marketing, event management, broadcasting, business operations, and more. As such, many colleges and universities are developing esports-centric curricula to encourage students to learn every facet of the industry, from coding skills and game design to business development and corporate partnerships.

“Developing an esports and gaming curriculum provides our scholars with the tools to enter career pathways and succeed beyond their [gaming] controller,” explains BerNadette Lawson-Williams, founder and advisor of Johnson C. Smith University’s (JCSU) Esports and Gaming Trifecta, the first such program at a Historically Black College or University.


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A new arena of opportunity

At the University of Kentucky, one of the first educational institutions in the US to embrace esports, there’s a dedicated 6,000-square-foot space where students can access state-of-the-art gaming hardware including consoles, PCs, headsets, microphones, keyboards, and more. They hone everything from technical know-how to less tangible skills like networking and teamwork.

University of Kentucky

Left to right: Hyeonyeong "Aden" Kim, Sean Reardon, William Sommer, Riley Clasby, and Rhett Thompson playing a League of Legends match at the University of Kentucky's Esports Lounge.

Heath Price, associate chief information officer at the University of Kentucky, says that gaming has helped bring together a new and enthusiastic community on campus. “Our esports home base has been, first and foremost, a place for students to meet up,” he says. “There’s PC gaming, console gaming, and also a theater. We can host events and activities, whether students are putting them on or whether we’re hosting people in our community.” 

It’s not just students — the university’s staff have gotten involved, too. Faculty ranging from engineering to English professors have found ways to weave video games into course syllabi.

“Esports is a multidisciplinary subject matter. It’s not just for computer science majors — it’s for everyone that’s looking to expand and tap into a new, exciting industry.”

—Ruben Caputo, esports GM, academic advisor, and IT consultant at California State University Dominguez Hills

“There’s such widespread application, whether for marketing, business, computer science, engineering, or design,” says Price. “We’ve even got faculty in our linguistics department doing some really cool things with languages, incorporating gaming into the teaching models they’re using.”

At JCSU, the Esports and Gaming Trifecta builds on students’ love of gaming with three core components to broaden their interests: academic minor and certificate programs in esports and gaming management, which focus on the business side of the industry; access to a cutting-edge esports lab; and a game development club. 

JCSU’s program intertwines elements of both gameplay and career exploration. “Eighty-three percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 play video games on a daily or weekly basis, but they make up only two percent of professionals employed in the esports and gaming industries,” says JCSU’s Lawson-Williams. “This statistic was one of the impetuses behind JCSU’s Esports and Gaming Trifecta, as we strive to show our gamer-scholars that the esports they compete in are more than a game.”

There are currently more than 65 students in JCSU’s Esports and Gaming Trifecta, and the program’s first graduate will finish his degree this May.

New facilities attract game players and creators

Esports can be a valuable complement to a school’s academic programming. To date, around 175 institutions have varsity esports teams registered with the National Association of Collegiate Esports, up from around 125 in 2019. As Sean Burns, a corporate researcher at Educause, wrote in a 2021 report on expanding esports in higher education, there are several important ways in which esports benefit colleges and universities, including boosting student retention and recruitment.

A player at the Battle for Charity Event in the HyperX Esports Arena where CSUDH competed and won.

“This is a new avenue for institutions to pursue that lets them open up doors to new students and bring them in to lead,” writes Burns.

Beyond establishing official clubs, colleges and universities are making significant investments to build out their own dedicated gaming facilities, like CSUDH’s soon-to-be-launched Esports Incubator Lab. The lab, which will offer four main components — an incubation space complete with content creation stations, a competition area, a production room, and a classroom to support esports courses — will be housed in the university’s library.

“Esports is a multidisciplinary subject matter,” says Ruben Caputo, esports general manager, academic advisor, and information technology consultant for CSUDH. “It’s not just for computer science majors — it’s for everyone that’s looking to expand and tap into a new, exciting industry. Our students are the consumers, but they’re actually the creators, too.”

Transferable skills and career trajectories

Of course, some students are drawn to esports for the same reasons that traditional athletes devote years of their life to their sport — for the love of the game, the thrill of competition, and the cache of fame and influencer status. In esports, this path is possible, if competitive. For example, Erin Ashley Simon, an alumna of the University of Kentucky, has become a successful esports multimedia personality, host, producer, and consultant.

But there are also myriad career opportunities behind the screens. Kitty Cao, an esports sponsorship supervisor at HyperX has turned her own love of gaming into a blossoming career that includes building partnerships with collegiate gaming programs. HyperX works with dozens of collegiate partners, including CSUDH, the University of Kentucky, and the University of California at San Diego, by supporting events, outfitting esports arenas with equipment, and working to develop programming that engages students and the larger esports community.

“Partnerships make a lot possible,” Cao says. “We get to bring cool ideas to life, but you need to be organized, and you need to have general knowledge of esports’ different aspects and departments.”

Cao notes that her job is just one example of the wide range of options available in the industry. She mentions a few popular trajectories including team management, broadcasting, production, business development, and graphic design. Lawson-Williams elaborates on a few other interesting options: There are now esports photographers, lab assistants, tournament managers, social media managers, and even massage therapists.

As for Warren-Carrasco, who originally thought she’d go into restaurant management, the variety of esports career paths — from pro players to lawyers who work exclusively for esports organizations — has broadened her aspirations. 

“It’s been eye-opening how many career options are available,” she says. “It seems like I could point in any direction, and I’ll hit on a possible job in the industry.”