Ohio’s Out Front in the Video Game Industry

Boasting a professional esports arena, Varsity teams and top-notch video game development programs, Ohio is making a name for itself in the gaming industry.

For many years, video games existed purely as entertainment – a mindless hobby to pass the time. The technology was basic, and the games were rather monotonous. But gone are the days of challenging your friend to a recreational game of Pong on the Atari; today’s gaming industry has risen from a fringe subculture to a mainstream industry marked by big money, university scholarships and high-stakes professional leagues. As video game industry continues to grow, Ohio is establishing itself as a major player.

Esports, which are defined as, “multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers,” are gaining prominence across the nation — to the point that they’re being recognized at the university level.

In 2015, Miami University in Oxford became the first NCAA Division 1 school to establish a Varsity program. Today, there are 76. Among the other universities in Ohio with Varsity esports programs are Ashland, Tiffin, Lourdes, Ohio State, Akron and Kent State. With the global esports economy reportedly reaching $905.6 Million in 2018 and investment growing by 48%, Ohio players are getting in on the action. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is the primary investor in an esports team, and joins a growing list of owners of other major league sports teams.

“By bringing esports to the university level we can create new opportunities to teach crucial academic, social and psychological skills to a wider population of students. Esports is inextricably related to booming sectors of the technology and entertainment industries, from game design to live broadcast production,” said Michael Fay, Jr., Director of Esports at the University of Akron. “Plus, by bringing video games into the mainstream, we have an opportunity to bring a fresh interpersonal angle to what can too often be an isolating digital media landscape.”

Gamers aren’t the only ones moving this burgeoning industry forward. Video game designers are right at home in Ohio as well, with Shawnee State University, Miami University and the Cleveland Institute of Art named top game design schools internationally by The Princeton Review. Other organizations, like video game developer Multivarious Games, housed in Columbus’ Idea Foundry, also support the growth of the industry. Multivarious runs The Sandbox, the largest video game development incubator of its kind in the Midwest. The Ohio Third Frontier partner in Akron—BOUNCE Innovation Hub—supports New Territory, an innovative company specializing in virtual reality gaming.

“I think there’s tremendous potential for Ohio to become a national hotbed for esports and video games. We have the talent and the resources around the state to make it a center for gaming — talent coming from design programs around the state and universities encouraging involvement. In the past you would often hear that video game industry has been mostly restricted to the west coast and east coast. Well, the Midwest is coming, and it’s starting in Ohio.”

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