Does New Jersey have what it takes to become the US leader of the esports industry? The short answer is time will tell. However, Stockton University is certainly doing its part to push the industry forward by opening the new Esports Innovation Center (EIC) on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
The official ribbon cutting took place during the October Casino Esports Conference (CEC). Stockton’s Atlantic City campus served as the event host, with many of the sessions taking place inside the new Stockton EIC. The center is a nonprofit set up between the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Stockton with the goal of promoting esports in South Jersey and Atlantic City.
Here is a closer look at what Stockton’s doing to help move the Esports needle forward.
Esports management degrees on the horizon
From a New Jersey perspective, Stockton University couldn’t have picked a better location for its EIC. Besides being part of the Atlantic City campus residential complex, the Atlantic Ocean and beach are footsteps away.
More importantly, college students are showing a growing interest in esports. They are the ones who will play a big role pushing the esports industry forward, especially in the Garden State.
Stockton Chief Information Officer Scott Huston, who spoke at the CEC event, puts things in perspective when talking about how much the esports team has grown over a very short period of time. He said there were just 12 students in 2019 versus nearly 800 today. One of the highlights included Stockton’s Rocket League team finishing second in the world in a competition.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for competitive play, but also we see a lot of students who aren’t the hard-core video gamers, but it fits the lifestyle they are living and they want to be involved,” Huston said. “For us, it’s all about providing another avenue for students to fit into the university.”
However, getting people more engaged in esports is the first step of much bigger plans that Stockton highlights in a press release. Earlier this year, Stockton introduced its first esports and event planning course. The school said it will be offering it again during the spring semester.
Noel Criscione-Naylor, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, said there is a huge connection to hospitality, tourism and event management, which is our program.”
“Students have to have the fundamentals of what does it mean to execute an event and at the same time what are some of the computer skills and problem solving that’s necessary (with esports events),” Criscione-Naylor said.
Stockton also is working on establishing a Bachelor of Science degree in esports management. According to the school, this program could launch as early as next fall.
“We see it as a way to create a diverse skill set in our students, and we are working very hard and very fast to make sure we have a program that will make our graduates competitive in the market as it emerges,”Noel Criscione-Naylor said.
Esports education addresses a NJ need
If New Jersey has any chance of building a successful esports, having students with esports management degrees combined with first-hand knowledge from the Stockton EIC will certainly help.
Tim Sullivan, the Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) was the keynote speaker at this year’s Casino Esports Conference. He spoke about how the Stockton EIC is helping put New Jersey on the map as “one of the leaders in this new and growing industry.”
“The EIC will be a driver of strategic workforce development and will help to attract industry-supporting businesses and events,” Sullivan said. “Governor Phil Murphy’s economic development plan is focused on bolstering high-growth sectors that create inclusive career opportunities. The EIC, as a center of knowledge and innovation, is adding to the momentum in this emerging and particularly exciting industry. [The] ribbon cutting is an important step forward in accomplishing Governor Murphy’s vision for a stronger and fairer NJ economy.”
According to the press release, global revenue from esports is expected to generate in the neighborhood of $1.38 billion this year. For Atlantic City, this creates potential opportunities for additional revenue.
Through September of 2021, the nine Atlantic City casinos have generated $3.6 billion in total gaming revenue. This is a combination of slots and table game revenue from land-based casinos and along with earnings from sports betting and online casinos. Notice esports betting is not mentioned. At least not yet.
Needing an esports connection to Atlantic City casinos
The New Jersey Division Enforcement’s (DGE) list of approved sports betting events currently includes esports events such as the League of Legends, CS:GO, DOTA2 and Call of Duty League. However, the DGE monthly reports do not include an esports betting revenue column.
DraftKings Sportsbook and bet365 are a couple of the NJ sports betting operators currently offering odds on live events. And for now, those Call of Duty and League of Legends bets will fall into the sports betting revenue bucket. It would make more sense for NJ regulators to eventually put esports in its own lane with lower licensing fees.
Esports Entertainment Group attempted to do something different by launching its Vie.gg esports betting site in the Garden State earlier this year. By late October, the company informed customers in NJ, Spain and the United Kingdom that they would be “shutting down effective immediately.”
Coordinating more esports events with Atlantic City casinos is another possible avenue. Andrew Weilgus, who is the executive director of the EIC at Stockton, said “having casinos get more involved with esports is definitely a big part of the EIC’s mission
“We want to help define and craft a casino strategy where they can take advantage of this growing boom of esports, both with events that come into Atlantic City, as well as potential wagering opportunities,” Weilgus said.