Universities are no longer wondering how they fit into the esport eco-system. While some schools are focused on launching an esports team, many are simultaneously working on developing the next generation of workers who will build and grow the gaming and esports industry to new heights.
University of Maryland (UMD), is one of many higher educational institutions that has put resources behind their gaming initiatives by opening The Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering in 2019. The lead donor, Brendan Iribe, attended the UMD in 1997-1998 before leaving to start his career in video gaming. After years of experience, he co-founded the virtual reality company Oculus, which Facebook acquired for approximately $2 billion in 2014. It is pioneers like Iribe that are starting to give back to the community that helped spark their curiosity in the space for the current generation to flourish.
Two UMD students that have benefited from the Iribe Center are Galen Stetsyuk and Mikhail Sorokin, who met while at school. “It was more than the Iribe donation that sparked my passion in the Virtual Reality (VR) space”, said Stetsyuk. “It was the ability to meet with folks like Brendan Iribe, which provided us a network to gain access to the equipment and resources needed to launch our game, M-PLEX, a multiplayer VR tank combat video game currently in development. To date, the team has raised $1.2 million over two fund raising rounds.
Not to be outdone, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has their own incubator space called MAGIC, a university-wide research center with a focus on media, arts, games, interaction, and creativity, founded in 2013. According to RIT’s Director of the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Richard DeMartino, “One thing that distinguishes us is that MAGIC is a stand-alone center directly related to interacting games; including film, animation, and software.” MAGIC has its own outlets with the ability to create games and deliver it through MAGIC’s infrastructure, enabling the students to get course credit for their work. “As one of the oldest COOP educational schools in the country,” added DeMartino, “90% of our students are required to a ‘residency program’ and game development is very attractive these days.”
Ben Garvey and Harry McCardell, co-owners of Great Lake Gaming (GLG), a company focused on running virtual and in-person gaming events around the country viewed MAGIC as their sandbox of creativity. “Although I came to RIT to study coding, it was not in the cards,” said Garvey. However, instead of quitting, he shifted his major to game design and entrepreneurship, “which saved my college career.”
Garvey is following in the footsteps of another RIT graduate who almost didn’t graduate but came back to RIT to donate $50 million, one week after his startup, Datto (a data protection company), sold to Vista Equity Partners for $1.5 billion dollars. According to Garvey, “this donation enabled me to take a GAP year to launch GLG and now we have five RIT interns and the opening of our first physical space in downtown Rochester (NY) is around the corner.”
Drexel University, another tech focused institute is also focused on keeping their startups in the local economy. Based in Pennsylvania, their Entrepreneurial Game Studio, EGS, was initially founded in 2014 by a $200,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Dr. Frank Lee, the director of the EGS, believes he can ‘create a mini factory for game startups where Drexel could mentor the students in developing their game companies and have one of them hit it big and stay in the Eastern PA area.” Beyond building a game industry hub in PA, Lee truly focuses on the entrepreneurship spirit. “The vision for the game studio is to develop the entrepreneur mindset which we believe is teachable and a critical tool for the future workplace.”
No matter the educational institute, gaming and esports is here to stay in higher education. Creating a place to fail quickly and move forward with an idea is just one way U.S. based schools have continued to push the boundaries of gaming.