How Stockton has become leader in esports — in competition and classroom

Stockton University Chief Information Officer Scott Huston said the school has seen firsthand how quickly interest in esports has grown on campus.

Consider the numbers: In 2019, the university’s esports team had just 12 students. Today, it has nearly 800.

The growth is playing off on the proverbial field: Earlier this year, Stockton’s Rocket League team finished second in the world in a competition.

Huston calls it a win-win.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for competitive play, but also we see a lot of students who aren’t the hardcore video gamers, but it fits the lifestyle they are living, and they want to be involved,” he said. “For us, it’s all about providing another avenue for students to fit into the university.”

But it’s much more than that.

In addition to getting more students involved with playing esports, Stockton also sees an emerging need and opportunity to educate students about the growing field.

This fall, the university debuted its first esports and event planning course, which will be offered again in the spring.

Noel Criscione-Naylor, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at the school, said there’s a huge connection to hospitality, tourism and event management.

“Students have to have the fundamentals of, what does it mean to execute an event and, at the same time, what are some of the computer skills and problem solving that’s necessary (with esports events)?” she said.

Criscione-Naylor added that the university is in the process of establishing a Bachelor of Science in esports management with an anticipated fall 2023 launch.

“We see it as a way to create a diverse skillset in our students, and we are working very hard and very fast to make sure we have a program that will make our graduates competitive in the market as it emerges,” she said.

Huston said Stockton also sees an opportunity to educate traditional casino and hospitality executives about the esports industry.

“They are going to need to learn esports in order to make better decisions,” he said. “They can come back, get a certification or pick up a degree to learn how to make these modern choices and really cater to this industry as it continues to take off.”

The new course offerings, combined with the opening of Stockton’s Esports Innovation Center, sets the school and the state up for future success.

So said Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which is a partner in the EIC.

“This center is doing cutting-edge policy and innovation work and is bringing together higher education research to attract big and small companies,” Sullivan said. “This innovative synergy will bring long-term change in Atlantic City, Atlantic County and South Jersey.”