A champion video game player under the direction of an esports coach of the year is competing for West Virginia University months ahead of the full launch of a new esports minor and Mountaineer esports team.
By Fall 2022, students will have the option of pursuing a 15 credit minor in esports, video games played in highly-organized and competitive environments, in person or online across the three campuses — Morgantown, Beckley and Keyser.
“As part of our academic transformation efforts, the University is looking to develop new academic programs that are highly relevant and appealing to students and that will prepare them for jobs and career opportunities in today’s dynamic economy,” Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said.
“Developing curricula in esports recognizes that it is a billion dollar-plus industry that will require professionals with skills in business, media marketing and promotions. As WVU launches its own esports team, there will be many opportunities for students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom.”
Josh Steger, director of esports and varsity coach at WVU and the 2021 National Association of Collegiate Esports Madden Coach of the Year, recently moved to Morgantown to oversee WVU’s full launch into esports after building a successful esports program at WVU Potomac State College from the ground level.
In Morgantown, his goal is to bring in a full team of varsity-level esports players by next fall, with half of the team onboard as soon as the spring. An interest form is available for those who want to learn more.
His first recruit, Noah Johnson, a 19-year-old economics major from Baltimore, Maryland, is already a huge name in esports.
On the professional level, Johnson was ranked in the Top 15 internationally, as of earlier this month, in the Madden Championship Series for Madden NFL, the football video game series named for John Madden, the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
At age 17 and not long after beginning professional play, Johnson won the 2020 Madden Challenge Tournament in front of an international crowd, online via a number of live platforms and in person, and collected a prize of $35,000.
“Being able to play video games and earn money while doing it is awesome,” he said.
Johnson had never been to Morgantown before a campus visit, planned at Steger’s urging, in August. A week later, Johnson moved into Honors Hall.
“I was receiving different offers from other colleges. After having conversations with Josh, I liked the vision and direction of the WVU program. It also helped that Josh was a cool dude,” Johnson said.
The size of WVU was also a factor in his decision. “I wanted to go to a bigger school. Sports was pretty big on my list as well because I wanted to go to a school with a big sports team and, obviously, West Virginia has that with basketball and football.”
After finishing in second place last year in the national championship for Collegiate Madden while playing for Maryland, Johnson has a goal of winning this year’s title, set to be decided on Nov. 18, as a Mountaineer.
At the professional level, he’s focused on the Madden Championship Series which wraps up with the Ultimate Madden Bowl in February in Los Angeles, offering a prize pool of $1,000,000.
To prepare, Johnson is currently training, putting in 30 to 40 hours per week on Madden, while keeping up with class work. He has been debating whether to pursue the new esports minor, an option other prospective students have been asking about in recent years, reflecting growing demand for different types of digital degrees nationwide.
Steger said even students who don’t make the varsity team or have no interest in competing themselves but who want to be involved in marketing, design and other sectors within the gaming industry will have opportunities to learn, making them more employable after graduation.
Three core classes for the minor will be housed in the College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences and the John Chambers College of Business and Economics with electives in those schools and the Reed College of Media.
“At the end of the day, they get an education, so they have a backup plan,” Steger said.
“Most of the people that are in the (gaming) industry currently, they just got their jobs because they went out and they made their own experiences happen through networking and, luckily, with us, they’ll have the opportunity to join the two of them.”
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