HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Northern Kentucky University's Esports program is under new leadership and creating a new minor under its business school. University officials say it strengthens student's prospects for jobs in a growing and lucrative industry.
"I just kind of transitioned from playing soccer to playing Rocket League," Eric Jackman, a junior at NKU, said.
Jackman hasn't played soccer since high school, but he's still a varsity athlete. Sitting in what's dubbed the sandbox, donning a jersey, Jackman spends hours gaming.
"You just have to practice so much to be able to do things that look really simple to whoever is watching," he said.
Jackman told WCPO 9 News his parents were concerned with how many hours he spent in front of a computer screen. But now that he's part of NKU's Varsity Esports Program. Jackman is top ranked in Rocket League, placing in the top .1% or .2% of gamers. And his skill in what used to just be a hobby, now pays for a portion of his tuition.
"Now, [my parents] see what kind of opportunities can come from it, so they're a lot more supportive now," Jackman said.
"For us, it's really nice to be able to offer that scholarship opportunity for them to be able to come here and not only get their education but continue doing something they love," NKU Esports Director Shanda Harris said.
In early August, the university announced it hired Harris. Not only will she be at the helm of NKU Esports, she'll also teach in a minor program that will equip students with the business knowledge of Esports. Harris says this kind of curriculum shows the industry isn't frivolous.
"That's the biggest misconception," Harris said. "There are other aspects of Esports that tie into it. So, you have the marketing, the finance, the economics of Esports, even the sport itself."
Esports analytics company, Newzoo, estimates the Esports market will generate $1.38 billion this year. CyberAthletics.com estimates professional gamers can make anywhere from $12,000 to $60,000 a year. Some of the highest paid Esports players make as much as $420,000 a year.
For the players that have even bigger paydays, they make their money from domestic and international Esports competitions. One of the most profitable players is a 28-year-old from Denmark. Johan Sundstein has earned more than $7 million in prize money.
Harris says she hopes parents take their children's ambitions to go into the Esports industry more seriously.
"Don't yell at your child to put that video game down because it could lead into a lucrative career," she said.