LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Don't let your teen get away from those video games just yet. There are now nearly 200 colleges - 200 - offering scholarships for the best esports players. But there's more. Some schools now even allow them to get esports degrees. From member station WOSU in Columbus, Clare Roth reports on Ohio State's new degree program.
CLARE ROTH, BYLINE: Most people who play video games mash buttons and click mouses for recreation's sake. Stakes are low - just bragging rights, maybe a ranking on the leaderboards. But that's not the case in esports. The players are professionals, paid to play for audiences that, at their largest, surpassed the Super Bowl's numbers. And a lucrative industry surrounds them, from coaches to sponsorship managers, tournament hosts to game developers.
Cat Cox, a student at Ohio State University, wants to join their ranks as a team manager. For now, she works a part-time job at the new esports arena on campus. Last Sunday night, though, she was there just for fun.
CAT COX: So if we get trapped in the snares, we're pretty much going to die. So we have to avoid that a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They had the better pick ban phase.
ROTH: Cox and her teammates are strategizing before an intramural match of "League Of Legends," one of the most popular games in esports. The so-called arena is a glorified computer lab dedicated to gaming. It's part of a larger program the university launched over the past year that attracted Cat here from Virginia.
COX: One of the reasons why I did transfer to Ohio State was I learned that there was a big esports program going on, and I did want to become part of it.
ROTH: The program includes a competitive team, a research arm and the esports and game studies major that could be an official offering next fall. The school started working on it two years ago after students started badgering faculty like engineering professor Deb Grzybowski.
DEB GRZYBOWSKI: The first thing I always say is, we're not teaching our students how to play games. That is really important to understand. We are teaching our students everything surrounding that.
ROTH: One hundred fifty students a year will prepare for jobs as managers, analysts and support staff for e-athletes and game developers. Grzybowski is the program's staunchest defender.
GRZYBOWSKI: There are some faculty who do not feel that Ohio State should have an undergraduate major or a graduate major that has the name esports in it. And that, I feel, is a process of education.
ROTH: She touts numbers claiming the esports industry will top a billion dollars of revenue this year, but skeptics remain.
Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week who sometimes writes about video games. He says, no matter what the numbers are, this should not be a college degree.
MATTHEW WALTHER: At a certain point, you're reaching a level of dumbing down and of crassness where you're insulting the nature of university education.
BRUCE MCPHERON: This is exactly what a land-grant state university is for.
ROTH: Provost Bruce McPheron.
MCPHERON: This is a business curriculum. This is an engineering curriculum. This is a communications curriculum. This is a curriculum that will touch areas that all of us will benefit from and never realize that it started in e-gaming and esports.
ROTH: A few other schools already have programs in place, and students like Cox are excited about the major.
COX: Even in college, my dad was like, oh, why are you gaming so much? Now I could tell him, hey, I have a esports-related job. I take a esports-related class. It is really going to be the future. He's now starting to realize, oh, yeah, it's not just a one-time thing. It can be turned into a career.
ROTH: A career for her and hundreds of other students passionate about gaming and esports.
For NPR News, I'm Clare Roth in Columbus.
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