Photo credit: kento warner photography

The glow of the monitor illuminates the hyper-focused profile as rapid clicks reverberate throughout the room and fingers fly across the keyboard. No, this is not a late-night office worker working overtime; this is the world of professional gaming. 

“There’s a whole sports channel for the nerds who have been sitting at their computers playing video games,” said Alan Eno, assistant professor of practice and website administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Eno kickstarted UNL’s esports streaming events, coordinating the FIFA 2020 tournament last year for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. He also started a UNL pop-up class to teach students about the esports community and its growing list of jobs. Most recently, Eno coordinated the university-wide Super Smash Bros tournament on Sept. 24 with help from UNL’s esports club. UNL is one of the few Division I universities that does not offer esports scholarships or have an established esports team such as both Ohio State and the University of California at Irvine.

The club functions as a hub for those who want to find like-minded gamers. Because UNL does not have an official esports team, the club helps bring people together who want to find fellow competitive gamers. The club also helps as the central point for organizing esports tournaments like the Smash Bros and FIFA 2020 tournaments on campus.

Of the job opportunities for students, Eno said these have trickled down to create a niche for women within the community. It has also been a contributor to the culture shift when it comes to how others perceive the world of professional gaming. 

“Esports in general is sort of changing the culture,” Eno said, “The cool kids can now come in and take over the sport.”

Esports, an electronic form of competition played by professional gamers for spectators, started at Stanford University with the first US esports competition in 1972. In the past 50 years, esports rose to a multi-million dollar industry, bringing in approximately $92 million USD in 2020 worldwide. Of the 14,500 professional gamers worldwide, women make up approximately 5%, despite 60% who play video games casually. 

Joey Spott, a junior mechanical engineering student at UNL, spearheads the Nebraska Esports Discord server. With over 200 members, the server is the hub at UNL for those who range from casual gamers to veterans. Spott began the esports server after joining a Rocket League club and then subsequently marrying the Rocket League club with the already-existing League of Legends club. 

“There was about 20 of us on campus, I met them really through mutual friends,” Spott said, “They are real-life people; they do exist.”

In addition to growing monetarily, esports offers a more accessible and easier way for people of all ages to become involved with the community, Spott said. He continued to recruit people into the Discord and said he mainly created the club to help bring together those who want competitive esports.  UNL advertising professor Michael Hanus was instrumental in Spott’s involvement. Through Hanus, Spott met other like-minded students interested in creating an actual streamed tournament. Now, Eno is in charge of the streaming. 

“In doing these in-person events, he’s all about [that]. So he’s only been an addition to the club in that sense,” Spott said. 

Now, the esports club meets within the media college. Not all 200 people from the server show up, but students who are interested in running the streaming broadcast discuss with Eno to dish out roles for the next esports event on campus. Many are journalism and broadcast students, which brought esports into a smaller sphere. 

Morgan Pruitt, a senior UNL broadcasting and journalism major, found a niche within esports that also functions as an occasional on-the-side moneymaker. A big part of the esports scene is livestreaming for an audience, Pruitt said. Because of its flexible nature, a gamer can stream from their home and have a personal connection with their watchers in real-time. Pruitt has her own streaming channel (mizzlewizzle_ on Twitch) with 134 followers. 

“I made $300 [streaming],” Pruitt said, “I didn’t even have 100 followers at that time.”

Because Pruitt is a broadcast major, she has confidence speaking in front of a camera — one of the pillars in the streaming tournaments. Pruitt provided color commentary for the FIFA 2020 event last year and entered the scene without playing the game being streamed.

“I had never played FIFA before in my life,” Pruitt said, “I want to talk about the players and everything.”

Despite not playing the game, Pruitt researched the game and landed a position at Jacht, the student-led advertising agency, through her esports involvement.

“If you’re graduating college and you know how to do production for esports or anything associated with producing a tournament, you’re going to find a job,” Eno said. 

Although Spott is an engineer, his involvement in streaming and esports helped him land an internship with the College Carball Association. He currently helps produce graphics for the livestream and video production for pre-recorded material such as interviews and team intros.

“You don’t have to make videos or play video games,” Spott said, “There are people doing accounting, they’re talent managers.”

Jobs such as a marketing position, graphic designer, public relations personnel or even a dietitian for the gamers on a team are a few  opportunities offered to those looking to sneak into the industry. These jobs don’t require having played a single video game, much less devoted hours of time to a singular game or franchise.

“I think this college should own whatever we can in terms of prepping students to go work in the production industry on esports,” Eno said.