Embracing this fast-growing technology would help Arkansas’ economy grow faster, too

by Jackson Acuff and Dr. John Price ([email protected]) 881 views 

Video games: The term often conjures images of teenagers with poor hygiene wasting time in a dark room while homework and chores sit unfinished. But Arkansas has the opportunity to turn video games into a source of personal growth for our children and economic growth for our state as a whole.

The opportunity lies in actively supporting “esports,” a global, dynamic, and growing part of the tech industry that is gaining momentum in the United States. In the past few years, the U.S. esports industry has begun forming professional teams that are paying seven figures to the best esports players and selling out NBA basketball arenas to avid crowds to watch championship video game matches.

But esports isn’t just for watching professionals play video games — although Americans did watch over 200 million hours of esports in 2022. A growing number of high schools and colleges are starting esport teams that allow teens to follow their passion.

High school esports teams provide many of the same social opportunities that other sports do. Players not only grow in self-confidence as they improve a skill, but they also learn to work well in a diverse team environment. They can develop leadership skills, cultivate strategic thinking, and learn the value of teamwork.

Further, the team environment of esports provides accountability and structure that allow teens to play video games in a healthy way. The World Health Organization has recently labeled video game addiction a disease, but playing in a team environment with adult oversight allows these students to pursue the passion they already have with healthy boundaries.

What’s more, esports attract students that other kinds of activities, most notably traditional sports, too often neglect, providing an opportunity for an even broader cross-section of the student body to engage in the benefits of sports.

Arkansas already has esports teams in a number of high schools, but it would do well to support the growth of the sport more broadly, not only because of the financial implications of esports, but for the well-being of  students and the state as a whole.

The reality is, there’s already a lot of money involved with esports in education. Colleges have started offering scholarships to the top high school esports players. Before the pandemic, colleges offered $16 million in esports scholarships — a number that is sure to grow in the coming years.

The rise of esports in education reflects the lucrative nature of the industry as a whole. Esports brought in nearly $1.4 billion in revenue in 2022, with analysts and insiders seeing substantial room for growth. Some countries are investing heavily in esports. While most students won’t go pro playing video games — just like most high school baseball players don’t reach the majors — experience in high school can lead to college studies in the field and a job in the tech industry.

All of this money and growth can benefit Arkansas as a whole. Imagine the impact a large sellout tournament would have on Little Rock or Fayetteville — not only for the event organizers, but for restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that would be involved in myriad ways. We could dream even bigger and seek to make Arkansas a national hub for esports, drawing in international talent and strengthening Arkansas’ high-tech and entrepreneurial sectors.

Few other states have made esports a priority, but those that have started to do so, such as North Carolina, have attracted events with thousands of spectators and millions of viewers, bringing in revenue and prestige.

We might think of video games as a primary way teenagers waste time. But esports promises to take all that energy and turn it into something immensely productive — for our schools, for our communities, and most importantly, for our teenagers.

Editor’s note: Jackson Acuff is a grassroots engagement director at Americans for Prosperity-ArkansasDr. John L. Price is the Esports Manager at The Ohio State University and former Director of Esports at Henderson State University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.