Video games: The term often conjures up images of teenagers with poor hygiene wasting time in a dark room while homework and chores remain unfinished. But Arkansas has the opportunity to make video games a source of personal growth for our kids and economic growth for our state as a whole.
The opportunity lies in actively supporting “esports,” a global, dynamic and growing part of the technology industry that is gaining momentum in the United States. In the past few years, the eSports industry in the United States has begun to form professional teams that pay seven-figure sums to the best eSports players and sell out NBA basketball arenas to eager crowds to watch video game championship games.
But eSports isn’t just for watching professionals play video games—although Americans will watch over 200 million hours of eSports in 2022. A growing number of high schools and colleges are creating eSports teams that allow teens to follow his passion.
High school eSports teams provide many of the same social opportunities that other sports provide. Players not only grow in confidence as they improve a skill, but also learn to work well in a diverse team environment. They can develop leadership skills, cultivate strategic thinking and learn the value of teamwork.
Additionally, the team environment of eSports provides accountability and structure that allow teens to play video games in a healthy way. The World Health Organization recently designated video game addiction as a disease, but playing in a team environment with adult supervision allows these students to pursue the passion they already have with healthy boundaries.
What’s more, eSports attracts students that other types of activities, especially traditional sports, too often overlook, providing an opportunity for an even wider portion of the student body to engage in the benefits of sports.
Arkansas already has eSports teams in a number of high schools, but it would be good to support the growth of the sport more broadly, not only because of the financial implications of eSports, but also for the well-being of the students and the state as a whole.
The reality is that there is already a lot of money associated with eSports in education. Colleges have started offering scholarships to top eSports players in high school. Before the pandemic, colleges offered $16 million in esports scholarships — a number that is sure to grow in the coming years.
The rise of eSports in education reflects the lucrative nature of the industry as a whole. Esports brought in nearly $1.4 billion in revenue by 2022, with analysts and insiders seeing significant growth opportunities. Some countries are investing heavily in eSports. While most students not going to become a pro playing video games – just like most high school baseball players do not reach the majors — high school experience can lead to college education in the area and work in the technology industry.
All of that money and growth could benefit Arkansas as a whole. Imagine the impact a large, sold-out tournament would have on Little Rock or Fayetteville—not only for the event organizers, but for the restaurants, hotels and other businesses that would be involved in countless ways. We can dream even bigger and strive to make Arkansas a national hub for eSports, attracting international talent and strengthening Arkansas’ high-tech and entrepreneurial sectors.
Few other states have made eSports a priority, but those that have, like North Carolina, have attracted events with thousands of viewers and millions of viewers, bringing in revenue and prestige.
We can think of video games as a major way teenagers waste their time. But eSports promises to take all that energy and turn it into something extremely productive—for our schools, for our communities, and most importantly, for our teenagers.
Editor’s note: Jackson Acuff is the regular director of engagement at Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas. Dr. John L. Price is the Manager of eSports at The Ohio State University and the former Director of eSports at Henderson State University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.