O.K. Carter: Sign of the time: UTA adds an esports certification credential for degreed students

UTA History Chairman Scott Palmer and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Sonja Watson


UT-Arlington’s decision to add a new for-credit esports certification credential to its academic offerings clearly has logic to it, if for no other reason than growing inquiries from students that keep popping up, the short version being, “How do I gain entry into the esports gaming business?”

That interest aside, there are other motivations for the new certification, such as:

• The industry bumped past the billion-dollar mark this year – just in the U.S.

• Interest in esports is prevalent among college students, or for that matter, the under-35 crowd in general.

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• Arlington has somehow made itself the esports competition center of Planet Earth via conversion of its convention center to the 100,000-square-feet Esports Stadium Arlington, the largest such facility in North America and, arguably, the world.

That billion dollars, incidentally, does not include payouts to assorted esports tournament winners for such games as Dota 2, $216 million; Counter Strike, $82 million; Fortnite, $79 million; or League of Legends, $70 million. There are more, but that’s the trend. Esports is big and getting bigger.

UTA Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Sonja Watson coordinates the new esports certification, and she’s quick to note the certification is about employment possibilities of esports and the growing number of careers the industry provides – not playing games.

“Esports is a multi-disciplinary industry with all kinds of employment opportunities,” Watson said. “It’s much more than just playing the games. There’s broadcasting, technical writing, programming, translation and localization, video game design, marketing, public relations, graphics, script writing, event management and much more.”

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The certification includes 12 hours of for-credit hours. Though the program is run by the College of Liberal Arts, Watson says it attracts students from all disciplines – from engineering and communications to music (virtually every video game has its own musical score) and physics.

Note: Though UTA also offers a non-credit continuing education sequence in esports, this certification program is for active, degree-seeking students who want to enhance their employment possibilities.

“Students often choose a minor based either on personal interest or because they want to increase their employability in addition areas,” Watson said. “The esports certification does both those things.”

All certification students must take a base course – History of Video Games — taught by UTA history Chair Scott Palmer, though from there the courses are flexible depending on the esports component interesting the student.

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History of Video Games is popular, with 81 enrolled this semester.

One recent class focused on a mix of technological changes in the industry from purely mechanical, gambling-like devices like early pinball machines, blended with early demographic market trends leading to the penny arcade – cheap entertainment for the lower class – to the history of mall invasions by game arcades, along with legal issues. Many cities once banned such games, seeing them as more akin to slot machine gambling than games of skill.

Palmer finds he has to clear up many misconceptions his students have early.

“Many students think they’re going to learn gamer coding and become rich,” he said, “when in fact coding is probably the last thing someone in the industry needs to learn.”

The best comparative industry, Palmer says, is that modern games are more like cinema. Except that in games, the ultimate ending isn’t fixed.

“Today’s gaming requires musical composition, along with a good script, meaning good writing,” he said. “A degree in music might well prepare one to go into esports. An English major might well find themselves writing esports narratives. Many video games have historical references, so a history degree mixed with a bit of flair might be the ticket to the industry. A communication major might both write news releases and publicize new products and events.”

Palmer adds, “The best video games tell stories from history or legend with a new twist. There’s nothing new in games, whether they’re based on Old West movie tales like Red Dead Redemption or spinoffs of existing mythology. It’s the creative spin that makes them different.”

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O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.