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October 23, 2018

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The esports pipeline: UNLV is the go-to institution to learn about the budding industry


Millennial Esports CEO Alex Igelman speaks at an event marking the opening night of UNLV’s academic esports class and lab, inside an actual esports arena on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.

Millennial Esports and UNLV

Millennial Esports CEO Alex Igelman speaks at an event marking the opening night of UNLV's academic esports class and lab, inside an actual esports arena on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Launch slideshow »

UNLV is the first major university to offer an academic course and lab centered on esports.

“It fits the International Gaming Institute’s model of innovation to support the gaming industry, while touching on something in popular culture that exploded,” said Robert Rippee, director of the institute’s Hospitality Lab. “Our observation of that drove the two together.”

The esports course, which began last fall, features industry speakers and classes conducted in local gaming spaces. Students develop related business plans as part of the real-world feel.

“We’re not designing video games ­— that’s beyond the scope,” Rippee said. “(We are) learning how to create a business model that would integrate into the industry that we have here in Nevada.”

This month, students looked at a case study. Not on paper, but inside the Millennial Esports Arena in downtown Las Vegas. They learned about the company’s history and strategic intent moving through the 15,000-square-foot competitive gaming space.

“We were able to explain to them what an esports business is like in the city, and I thought the questions were good,” said Millennial Esports CEO Alex Igelman. “The students had a good grasp of ... how the industry is developing.”

Such site visits are offset by guest speakers. They might illuminate the regulatory process, the nuances of game and audience development or the latest console technology.

Rippee said the subject areas “are not linear like a normal college class. They’re all independent of each other. But together, they paint the picture of this ecosystem in esports and allow the student teams to develop ideas about how to turn that into an economically viable business model.”

The course even covers the gender gap in esports as an industry and pastime, which Rippee labeled a “major issue.”

During the tour of Millennial Esports Arena, a student asked Igelman what the industry might do to address the lack of female representation. “I’d like to hear from some of the women in the class and the guys as well, to see what they feel about the gender issues,” Igelman replied. “Because I’d like to learn from that and see if I could implement that in my business here.”

Last year, managers from local casinos took the classes looking to learn something that could benefit their careers and their companies, Rippee said. One current student, Michael Wynn, is not seeking a degree; he’s taking the course to prepare for a new venture at his job.

“I’m a writer for a company, and I have to write a lot of online content, and most of the stuff is casino, poker and sports-betting related, but now a lot of the stuff is esports,” Wynn said.

The popularity of the course has Rippee pushing for expansion.

“The course is only offered in the fall, and I’d like to offer it year-round,” he said. “And there’s been some initial discussions about offering it online, which would exponentially grow the number of students who can participate. I want to help them find their place in an emerging cultural phenomenon. This is a chance to get in on the ground floor — you’re one of the trailblazers who can figure out how this works into this big gaming industry that surrounds us.”

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