ATLANTIC CITY — The fast-growing esports industry has a future here that could bolster the city’s casinos, as well as create jobs and educational opportunities, a speaker said during a forum Tuesday.
Esports and its competitive videos games are a good fit here, keynote speaker Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer of the N.J. Economic Development Authority, told attendees.
The Casino Esport Conference kicked off at Stockton University’s Atlantic City Campus with breakout sessions on esports, as well as a ribbon cutting for an innovation lab focusing on the industry. Amid the activities was a lot of optimism about the impact of the video gaming market.
“This an opportunity to bring jobs, private investments and new activity to this great city,” Sullivan said. “It will hopefully show companies that we just don’t have casinos in Atlantic City. We have this center that is doing cutting-edge policy work, innovation work and is working with higher education institutions.”Research shows e-games will generate nearly $1.4 billion in economic activity worldwide this year. Yet casinos acknowledge they have thus far not attracted video game players in meaningful numbers.
That presents an opportunity for the state and the region, speakers said.
Projects such as Stockton University’s Esports Innovation Lab help position the school and region to capitalize on that opportunity.
“We’ve made a lot of progress with the Esports Innovation Center in the short amount of time that we’ve been open and we can’t wait for everyone to see the vision that we have for the EIC,” said Andrew Weligus, the executive director of the EIC.
The state’s EDA recognized it needed to tap into the rapidly growing esports industry according to Weligus. After seeing the potential implications it could have on the gaming industry, the authority felt Stockton University was the perfect partner to build the innovation center because of where it is located.
“We are really poised to have a leadership position in this industry,” said Sullivan the CEO of the NJEDA. “This is the future of gaming and it’s a big opportunity to add another piston to the Atlantic City and Atlantic County industry.”
In May 2021, they announced the project and provided $200,000 in funding in hopes of promoting esports in Atlantic City and throughout South Jersey.
Once the partnership was formed, Weligus was hired as the executive director of the esports lab.
He brought to the table experience using esports as a marketing tool.
“I came to the job with more experience in the traditional sports sector,” Weligus said. “But in addition to owning a minor league soccer team, Atlantic City FC, we launched an esports team to market that brand.”
Renovations on the innovation center were completed in August of this year. The center will later be equipped with the latest esports.
“It will be a great place for the industry to learn what can work in a casino environment and what can work in a higher education environment,” Weligus said.
Scott Huston, a Stockton official, said a recent Rocket League tournament in which it participated showed the potential of esports. The teams played before an audience of 50,000 online spectators.
“That is more than any traditional athletic event Stockton has ever put on,” he said.
Newzoo, the research company that tracks esports, says the global audience for these games will increase by 8.7% this year to 532 million. The games themselves will generate $1.38 billion in economic activity worldwide, a third of it coming from China, according to the company.
Twitch, the online platform, has 3 million to 6 million people on it at any given time, said L. Anthony Gaud, an esports and media entrepreneur. That has vast potential to generate licensed gambling revenue as regulations evolve and expand.
“It’s similar to online (casino) wagering: Instead of playing blackjack or poker, you’re playing Angry Birds,” he said. “That environment is coming. There’s going to be a wagering angle, probably a large one. It’s going to be a really big thing.”
Working with the higher education system in the state is the esports lab’s primary focus, Weligus said. The belief is that the lab can educate students with a passion for esports to get training so they can land jobs in the industry.
The EIC is open to anybody who has an interest in gaming. The group has already partnered with several community organizations and will host programs at the center for them.
“We plan on doing community programming with the boys and girls club, the police athletic league, and Stockton University’s Esports team,” Weligus said. “We also plan to do business to business events, job training sessions, game training sessions, game development sessions, and even tournaments. You can think of this place as a one stop shop for esports.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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