BECKLEY, W.Va. — The West Virginia University Institute of Technology is taking steps to become an official player in the rapidly expanding collegiate eSports gaming universe.

According to WVU Tech Director of University Relations Jen Wood Cunningham, online multi-player competitions will be added to the university’s athletics program within the next year, and the study of interactive gaming will be integrated into the curriculum at the Beckley campus, with the expectation of registering teams with the┬áNational Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), which was founded in 2016.

“We already have a lab on campus that’s been renovated for competition and for them to utilize however they need for their teams. And so, we will be recruiting this current year for next year,” Cunningham told MetroNews. “We had staff that went to a national conference to make sure that we are learning the cutting-edge technology of all of this activity because it’s a national and global phenomenon. It’s in the very early stages but we’ve made some progress, and we can share that it’s on its way.”

Cunningham said the advent of eSports has developed to the point of crossing disciplinary boundaries, and likely will become be a standard part of instruction at technical colleges, within a few years.

“This a great opportunity for us to engage young people and have our students that are competing in these sports to utilize what they know from the classroom, as well, of knowing how the games work, to teach young people and get them excited about science and engineering. It is completely in line with who we are and gives our students an opportunity to be competitive around the world, as prospective employees and in other athletic competitions. It is a team sport. So, you’re getting all benefits of being a member of an athletic team and learning skills that you can utilize in your career,” she said.

Cunningham added scholarships will be offered to potential recruits, who will be regarded as student-athletes.

In 2018, West Virginia Wesleyan College became the first private college in the state to make participation in eSports available to students and the second higher education institution nationwide to include scholarships as part of such a program.

In February, Concord University became the first public college or university in West Virginia to announce it will offer eSports to its students, with a varsity level team being added to its athletics roster. A coach for the program was hired in April, and recruitment has been ongoing.

In March, West Virginia University hosted a two-day eSports symposium at its main campus, featuring a panel of industry leaders and innovators providing insights into career opportunities in the emerging field, and discussing ways in which universities can prepare students for the business side of eSports.

WVU Tech’s student-led online gaming club will make recommendations about the choice of sporting games to be included and will serve in an advisory capacity, as development of the program moves forward.

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