Georgia State University unveiled its esports program last Wednesday, becoming the 34th member of the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). Starting this fall, students can try out to play on the League of Legends and Smite varsity teams, and each player on the roster will receive a scholarship of $1,000.
The esports program will be under Georgia State's Creative Media Industries Institute. Jay O'Toole, an associate professor and faculty affiliate at the institute, says working with NACE and the Georgia Esports League (GEL) allows students to compete both on a national and local level, but the program is also for non-competitors. Students interested in other aspects of esports, including broadcasting, production and marketing, are welcome to take on leadership and supporting staff roles.
"It helps them develop the skills and the capability they are gonna need for jobs that we don't even know exist in the future," O'Toole said. "It's just one way for us to meet those students where their interests lie, and help them develop those skillsets."
O'Toole said full details for fall tryouts are still in the works, and confirms the school will select 10 players -- five for the League of Legends lineup and five for the Smite squad -- based on gameplay and interviews with faculty and staff. Students also must meet the requirement for HOPE scholarships, including a cumulative GPA of 3.0 at minimum.
For students competing in GEL, a service by the Georgia Game Developers Association (GGDA), both scholarships and internships at game studios will be up for grabs.
"Georgia State's strong focus on esports is a visionary step for the school," said Andrew Greenberg, executive director of GGDA, in an email statement. "Not only do GSU's leaders recognize how many students are attracted by the competitive aspects, but they also realize esports' strong educational value. Students who compete often become fascinated by the technology involved and the underlying science. We already see many strong students developing through esports."
O'Toole explained the university will take advantage of the growing gaming industry in the state. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, 26 gaming developers call the "Peach State" home, including Hi-Rez Studios of Smite and Paladins fame.
"It's a very large sector industry in the state," O'Toole said. "Making these connections through an opportunity like esports is a very fantastic way for our students to reach their goals, and their dreams in some cases."
Michael Brooks, executive director of NACE, remarked having Georgia State on board is a cause for celebration.
"GSU certainly, but also the state of Georgia is taking an excellent lead in creating an esports hub on the east coast of the United States," said Brooks.
Georgia State is also looking to hearing from Panther Gaming, the student esports organization and a Tespa chapter. Its vice president, Andy Jespersen, was working on a plan to convince the school to fund esports teams, and now he can gladly discard the pitch and prepare for an introductory meeting with O'Toole and fellow students next week.
"To have your university to back you up, to say like 'this is a legitimate thing, let's be real, let's do this right,' that feels really good to know that there's people that's up top at the university interested in the same thing that we are," Jespersen said.