Esports revenues reached a global total of approximately $1.1 billion in 2021, a number that’s expected to approach $2 billion in 2022. Colleges can’t afford not to prepare students with marketable career skills for this growing market.

Whether you call it a club, a passion or a competition, esports is more than fun and games, says Adam Lopez, esports coordinator at Irvine Valley College (IVC). It can be an entrée into a job. Begun in 2021, the esports ecosystem at IVC includes roughly 200 students. Those involved represent just about every major on campus, from communications to finance, management to computer tech. The skills honed in the college’s esports competitions — the intense focus, the strategies, the ability to work as a team — are valuable in any career, but Lopez stresses that IVC has gone one step further by backing up those skills with the academics and real-world experiences that can turn a passion for gaming into a job.

Digital artists gain experience with esports’ social media pages, for example, while business majors might manage a team, and journalism majors hone their talents in the esports broadcasting area.

“I’ve gotten a lot of experience talking to news sources, making practical business decisions, and communicating internally with team leaders,” says communications major Emaline Gayhart. As IVC’s esports arena coordinator, she has spent hours involving herself with all pivotal initiatives, such as public relations, media, and web development. Gayhart has parlayed that experience into a job at the YMCA of Orange County, where she is writing the curriculum and teaching in their newly developed esports program. “A lot of business majors see the growth of the esports industry and are interested in getting into the field to manage teams or handle the finances for a league,” Gayhart continues.  “In the esports program, they can get that experience here and build their portfolios, so that when they apply for jobs, they are well-equipped and stand out from the competition.”

Katherine Amoukhteh is the professional expert for esports at Coastline Community College in Orange County, and she couldn’t agree more. "I believe that the skills learned in esports can be transferred to industries that value conflict resolution and teamwork, particularly within the medical, legal, and STEM fields."

A former high school teacher, Amoukhteh quit teaching when she saw the gamers in her school being heavily recruited by colleges. “I was fascinated by this field that few people knew much about, and I wanted to help pave the way so students and parents could understand what was available to them,” she says. “Students who are passionate about gaming often don’t realize they can use that passion in pursuit of a job.”

To that end, Coastline has developed several tuition-free, skills-based certificate programs that dovetail with the gaming phenomenon. A health and wellness certificate focusing on kinesthesiology, for example, goes into the psychology of gameplay, teaches gamers how to avoid repetitive injuries, and touches on proper nutrition. A writing certificate includes technical writing and digital storytelling and allows students to polish their professional writing skills.

“We see these certificates as low-risk ways for students to begin exploring careers before pursuing a credit certificate or degree program,” explains English and humanities instructor Stephanie Bridges, esports faculty advisor at Coastline, who helped design the career pathways.

The physical space for IVC’s program was completed according to industry standards, with wide desks, ergonomic chairs, and the latest gaming equipment. The casual comfort encourages the benefits of gaming that are often overlooked: the social aspect, the stress relief, and the inclusivity: Students with disabilities and non-English speakers can participate in gaming more easily than in other areas of the college.

When students join, they immediately become part of a passionate and committed community of gamers operating at a professional level. The teams are some of the best in the country, according to Lopez. “In our first three weeks, during the League of Legends SoCal Snowdown 2021 Collegiate Esports Tournament, we placed 2nd to CU Boulder, after defeating USC, Cal Berkeley, UCSD, and others. We even practice against some pro teams.” Students competing at that level often get scholarships or win significant cash prizes.

IVC has also been creating tournaments for local high schools. The benefits are threefold, says Lopez. “It’s a recruiting tool for the college, and it gives our production team a chance to have some portfolio-building experiences by filming and broadcasting competitions via Plus, we’re uniting our critical communities.”