Esports at UAF

A preliminary drawing of an esports arena that is in the works at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Graphic courtesy Cam Wohlford

Plans for incorporating esports into student activities and curriculum have pushed onward at the University of Alaska Fairbanks this year. 

The School of Management plans to offer Intro to Esports, a business class, next fall, said Peggy Keiper, director of the sport and recreation business program at the university.  Esports is competitive video gaming.

“They’ll learn about event management, they’ll learn about the finance side, so it’s essentially giving them an introduction to business course but applying it to the esports side,” she said.

With the esports industry expanding, the School of Management has been working on more ways to incorporate student interest in the field into curriculum.  One of Keiper’s classes helped in organizing the university’s esports and gaming summit earlier this year, which saw a turnout of around 300 people and featured professionals in the esports industry.

Mark Herrmann, dean of the School of Management, noted a collaboration with the Wood Center in building an esports arena, a devoted space for students who want to play against each other.

“We’ve been looking for a while for a place where students could gather to do esports,” he said, adding that it would hopefully be a space for students to compete, as well as engage in some other activities, like “Dungeons and Dragons.

The space they’re looking at for the moment is situated between the Wood Center help desk and the student government offices, where there are currently a few pinball machines and pool tables.

While the university could contribute some funding to the arena, Herrmann noted the School of Management is largely looking into other sources.

“We’re looking, though, to mostly use private funds,” he said, adding that he’s been speaking with several groups.

Esports isn’t the only way in which the university is looking at modern industries. The School of Management has been working with Bryan Uher, acting dean for the College of Rural and Community Development and director for the Interior Alaska Campus. Uher recently obtained a $1 milllion five-year grant from the Department of Education to develop a “Content Creation” occupational endorsement.

“This is very exciting especially, I think, the outreach to rural communities,” Herrmann said.

Uher noted that content creation, working on social media platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, a livestreaming platform, is a relatively new field.

“The real kind of driver for this is, this is extremely popular for the younger generation. This is becoming a viable industry and a viable field for people to go into,” he said.

Uher said younger people he’s talked to at rural campuses are interested in these kinds of classes. It’s “a job you can do from your home,” he said, and course delivery would allow rural students to stay in their communities while getting the education to build a business.

“All of these classes in this occupational endorsement will be delivered through distance delivery,” he said.

The funding for development comes from a Title III grant specific only to institutions serving Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. So after working on the project since January, Uher said when the award cycle came up this summer he applied.

“We’re really excited about this project and ... I’m really excited about the collaboration effort and I think a lot of people at the university are,” he said.

Uher submitted his proposal for how the courses would be structured Oct. 4 to the Academic Council, which oversees the addition of programs. He said he’s hoping for approval by fall 2020.

Herrmann noted that these recent additions to the university have been an interdisciplinary effort.

“We have a lot of people very interested in modernizing the campus and Gen Z students,” Herrmann said.

Technology, he said, is something students are interested in and a social activity that gives them something in common.

“I think our school in general is just very progressive in these types of ideas,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.