Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: Concord University at the forefront of meteoric rise of Esports gaming and the STEM careers it promotes

By Austin Clay, director, Concord University Esports program

Esports is growing exponentially in popularity among youth and their parents, and Concord University is developing an ecosystem to capitalize on the amazing skills and career opportunities growing out of participation in this international phenomenon.

Esports, short for “electronic sports,” transforms online gaming into a spectator sport. The experience is similar to watching a professional sporting event, except that instead of watching a physical event, spectators watch video gamers compete against each other in a virtual environment. Esports is exploding, and it is on a path to rival the adoption of robotics STEM education. Our efforts have advanced West Virginians’ opportunities in the $2 billion high-tech

U.S. Esports industry. The global Esports industry is expected to grow to $11.9 billion by 2030.

Concord established its Esports program in 2019 and fielded national championship teams in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2024. The university opened the first Esports arena in the state in 2023 and, perhaps more importantly, was the first in the state to introduce Esports curriculum and program development into its academic mission. We see this as a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program with academic specialties in business, government, military, education, and technology. There is a strong correlation between Esports skills and those needed by our armed forces, justice, homeland security, and information technology industry sectors. The Concord Esports competitive program is now thriving with 75 students, many of whom compete and support competitive teams through graphic design, production, and management.

At a ring presentation ceremony preceding Concord’s recent match hosting the U.S. Air Force Esports team, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin offered this positive message:

“Esports aren’t just a competition they are a learning experience, too. They require the use of strategy, collaboration, communication, and problemsolving to win. To all of the Maroon Team members: each of you worked very hard for this accomplishment. This competition was a wonderful opportunity for you to showcase the knowledge and talent you have achieved. You represent the Mountain State well. Congratulations on winning this coveted national title.

Esports growth is also a statewide phenomenon. There are 35 West Virginia high school and technical schools with Esports teams or clubs, and one community college – West Virginia Northern – offers a program. At the baccalaureate level, West Virginia University, WVU Potomac State, West Virginia State, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Glenville State, and Bethany all have competitive teams, while Marshall University has a club esports team, with some of the programs having academic degrees. Concord coaches are routinely invited to visit other institutions and share experiences and expertise.

Concord has made early significant strides in Esports, and we want to continue to be a leader going forward:

  • We are introducing local and state Veterans and military personnel to Esports. Concord is a Military Friendly School and serves our Veterans through our Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success. Further, Concord’s Esports Wellness staff will engage with Stack Up’s Overwatch Program to support its mission of supporting Veterans “through the power of gaming.”
  • The number of women in Esports is low nationally, but Concord is ahead of the curve. Ten percent of our Esports students are female and we aspire to forming some all­ female teams in the near future.
  • With the help of Dr. Angela Fedele, an Associate Professor of Social Work at Concord University, our students can be successful in and out of the game. Dr. Fedele provides resources to the students on campus where they are required to meet with her once a month or as needed for an academic and mental well-being check-in. Her efforts have not only helped numerous students in our program but also added to our amazing 90% retention rate.
  • Our two summer camps, aged from 18-12 years old and 12-8 years old were formed to foster Esports enthusiasts with us entering the third year and are nearly full. That has inspired us to develop the first-ever West Virginia Esports Combine for older youth to hone their skills and expose them to college-level opportunities.
  • As ambassadors for West Virginia Esports, our coaches and teams are able to travel frequently to see other Esports arenas and test our skills against other teams at various levels and playing diverse games. Including when we traveled to CECC in Arlington, TX for being nominated for program of the year and program impact.

I encourage you to visit our Esports site to see our local and national sponsors: https://www.concord.edu/student-life/esports

Esports gaming is here to stay, and I’m proud to say we have our focus not only on the games but the real-world wins that come with them.

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Austin Clay is the Director of Concord University’s Esports program. He can be reached at [email protected]

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