As part of a strategy to leverage technology to maximize student success and build community, the University of Kentucky on Oct. 21 announced a partnership with the global esports company Gen.G to build a first-of-its-kind global gaming and esports program.
UK wants open access for its students and graduates into the $130 billion global gaming industry.
“As rapidly as collegiate esports is already growing, the full power of games to impact students’ lives stems from international community more than from intercollegiate rivalry,” said Chris Park, CEO of Gen.G. “We believe the best universities should invest in this vision across the world. The University of Kentucky, with a nationally elite range of academic offerings and an internationally recognized athletic program, is particularly well-equipped to help lead the way.”
A growing number of universities across the country are exploring esports teams and clubs. UK’s formalized partnership, which the university has developed through its multimedia rights holder JMI Sports, promises strategically distinctive steps beyond esports as purely a competitive platform.
The partnership will emphasize access to opportunities and greater inclusitivy for all students. Gen.G has been a leader in working to diversify esports, launching the first all-female Fortnite team working to link the best U.S. gamers with those in Asia.
The partnership will also develop new pathways for student recruitment, classroom and internship opportunities; research avenues for scholars across a variety of colleges; and professional development for alumni.
The partnership is part of the Smart Campus Initiative, in which the university is exploring multiple ways to leverage innovative technologies for its teaching, research, service and health missions. As part of the first Smart Campus initiative, announced last year, UK is providing all first-year students and many faculty with an iPad Air, Apple keyboard and Apple Pencil.
“We view technology not as an end but as a tool to help us maximize the success of our students – in their educations and as they pursue all that’s possible at the University of Kentucky,” said Provost David Blackwell. “We want to provide them tools and learning opportunities that will help them succeed at UK, but also as they pursue jobs and careers that will help them succeed throughout life.”
- IT’S FREE | Sign up for The Lane Report email business newsletter. Receive breaking Kentucky business news and updates daily. Click here to sign up
“This partnership will provide further paths for students to explore these pursuits, using technology – and gaming – as a tool,” said Eric N. Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “At the University of Kentucky and at Gen.G, we view gaming, esports and technology as a lens through which prospective, recent and current UK students view their lives and opportunities for lifelong growth and development.”
Like much of the Southeastern U.S., Kentucky has many creative and passionate gamers who are underserved by colleges and companies not situated on the coasts. UK and Gen.G will work to develop a research portfolio that will address and probe issues such as repetitive injury motion and societal concerns around gaming and violence.
“We plan to be a leader not only in exploring the vast potential opportunities associated with esports and technology more broadly, but also the challenges posed to society,” said Blackwell. “Indeed, a primary benefit of a partnership between a global leader and national research university is you can explore in depth issues such as gender and racial equity as well as the need for more research around concerns that there are connections between gaming and societal violence.”
The program will focus on three key pillars: academic, community and professional development. Specific initiatives that are already underway, several of which will be developed in close collaboration with the UK esports Club, include:
Starting later this year, the university and Gen.G will serve as hosts for a periodic speaker series on campus, featuring leading gaming and esports executives, athletes and content creators. The series, which also will be streamed globally, will showcase content that is customized for students and alumni from relevant UK majors and degree programs.
In the coming months, the university will run an open call with faculty to discuss the potential new academic program and examine the possibility of a gaming-focused certificate program. Additionally, this strategic partnership will create new pathways through the Gen.G Elite Sports Academy for international students interested in unlocking better academic opportunities through esports. UK will work with faculty leadership for the necessary review and approvals as these components develop.
UK will initiate an open platform for Kentucky high schools, giving local teenagers a head start on careers in the global gaming ecosystems. The platform kicked off with gaming-related programming at Big Blue Open House events this fall.