Morris Brown College has a comeback story. And Atlanta’s competitive gaming scene will be an important chapter.
Founded in 1881 as one of Atlanta’s HBCUs, Morris Brown lost its accreditation in 2002. While enrollment at the school fluctuated between 30 to 50 students over the last nineteen years, receiving reaccreditation approval in April 2021 means that the college can apply for federal financial aid this coming academic year.
For Morris Brown’s President Dr. Kevin E. James, focusing on entrepreneurship and esports will be key to boosting admission numbers, providing students experiential learning opportunities, and connecting the campus with the wider Atlanta community.
The college’s new bachelor’s degree in global business with a concentration in Esports Performance, James told Hypepotamus, is looking to fill a hole in the Atlanta esports community. “Esports is a growing field in the city of Atlanta, but it doesn’t have a lot of minority leadership. So we wanted to be the first college in the state of Georgia to hold an esports performance degree program.”
“When I was looking at our academic programs, my mindset was I wanted to do something innovative and have a niche when it comes to the other Atlanta colleges,” James added.
With a $160,000 grant from Atlanta-based Esports education company Pharoah’s Conclave, Morris Brown will also house the Ronald Floyd Thomas Center for eSports and Innovation.
Additionally, the college is launching an Esports Certificate Program designed to connect with high school juniors and seniors in the surrounding Atlanta area. Students will earn up to 24 college credits in esports-specific curriculum.
“Our ultimate goal is to diversify the pipeline with future leaders in esports, gaming, and other STEM programs,” he added.
BUILDING THE CAPITAL OF ESPORTS
Morris Brown’s announcement is just the latest sign of momentum for Atlanta, which is consistently called one of the best cities for gamers.
The industry has changed dramatically since the Georgia World Congress Center hosted one of the first major US esports events in 1997. Todd Harris, CEO of esports production and services company Skillshot Media and Chair of the Atlanta Esports Alliance, told Hypepotamus that Atlanta is a “full ecosystem unmatched by any location in the US.”
With state tax incentives for game developers and esports businesses, Atlanta is home to local game publishers Hi-Rez Studios and Blue Mammoth, along with annual gaming festivals like MomoCon and Dreamhack Atlanta which can bring upwards of 40,000 gamers and gaming enthusiasts to the city.
Atlanta’s airport and vast hospitality industry made it easy to build up a strong festival and tournament culture. Franchises like Reign (Overwatch League), Atlanta FaZE (Call of Duty League), and Ghost Gaming, an organization with a roster of professional esports players and creators across popular video game titles, all call Atlanta home.
Even Atlanta United and the Atlanta Hawks have jumped in on the action and created esports teams in the eMLS and NBA 2K leagues respectively. Other Colleges like SCAD, Kennesaw State, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University have varsity teams or competitive clubs. As of September 2020, Atlanta is the headquarters of the new HBCU Esports League.
For the State of Georgia, esports can create upwards of $900 million in annual economic impact.
It is also one of the few states with competitive high school leagues, and the Technical College System of Georgia alone has graduated more than 5,000 students in cyber and gaming degrees.
Asante Bradford, Industry Engagement Manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, told Hypepotamus that the esports community is an integral part of Georgia’s tech scene.
“As a competitive sports showcase for leading-edge technology, esports can inspire young people to pursue technical education and careers,” Bradford said. “Mastering this technology opens vast opportunities for software developers and electrical engineers, even beyond esports. The coming wave of autonomous vehicles will require managing thick streams of real-time data issuing from computing clouds.”
Bradford added that “esports also provide a vibrant test lab for cognitive computing, including AI. In contrast to traditional sports, fans arrive at esports events with massive data requirements of their own. This ravenous data market is shaping up to be a laboratory for next-generation edge computing technology, including 5G. Ever-smarter systems will enable the networks to deliver customized clips, streams, and promotions, enhancing the experience and developing new sources of revenue. And with machine learning, the customization will grow ever more sophisticated. Expertise in this field should equip scientists and engineers for countless jobs in retail, advertising, events management, and even politics.”
THE FUTURE OF ESPORTS
While video gaming and streaming helped many get through COVID lockdowns, Harris said the pandemic had a mixed effect on the esports industry overall. “Skillshot and other companies pivoted away from live events to virtual events, which are much more challenging to monetize. However, at least the events could continue in virtual form. With traditional sports and music concerts on pause, esports was the only game in town and has driven increased awareness and audience growth,” added Harris.
“With everyone inside, viewership of esports on live-streaming platforms like Twitch. TV was up an incredible 83% last year. At Skillshot we connect leading brands to engaged gaming fans and 2020 was a year where more brands and more fans discovered esports.”
Bradford said esports has grown to be more than just entertainment — it is now a key educational tool for distance learning.
“The travel-related part of the [esports] business was down. But gaming products were red-hot,” said Bradford. “Teachers are utilizing widely played games like Roblox and Minecraft to demonstrate scientific principles like climate change or cellular biology, and those games’ publishers are making their platforms as accessible as possible to educators during the crisis. As teachers around the world seek creative ways to engage homebound students with coursework, video games are aiding that effort.”