TSU joins billion-dollar esports industry, new program prepares students for jobs as game creators, innovators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is among a growing number of HBCUs that are getting into the billion-dollar industry of competitive video game playing, or esports. 

Dr. Robbie Melton works with students in a coding program provided through TSU’s SMART Global Technology Innovation Center. (TSU Media Relations)

Historically black colleges and universities say it’s not all about fun and games, and believe esports is a steppingstone to jobs and internships for students. TSU has launched esports classes, and joined esports organizations and leagues that will allow students to improve their gaming skills, as well as network with tech companies. A starting salary in esports management is around $67,000.

 Dr. Robbie Melton is TSU’s associate vice president of the SMART Global Technology Innovation Center and dean of Graduate and Professional Studies. She says “esports crosses every major academic area.” 

 “Problem solving, creativity, curiosity, coding, math. When you play esports, all of a sudden you are into what we call high level critical cognitive skills,” says Melton, who teaches an online course called, The Rise of esports and gamification in higher education. “You’ve got to think, you’ve got to anticipate, you’ve got to now pose strategies. That’s what we call the peak of education. That’s what we want all of our students to do in whatever they’re doing.”

Michael Davis Jr., and his wife, Keyosha, who is taking coding classes at TSU. (submitted photo)

 TSU is a charter member of the Black Collegiate Gaming Association. HBCUs in the association commit to making Black esports more than an extracurricular activity by offering academic esports classes.

 Melton says the curriculum at TSU focuses on how esports connect with traditional forms of education. She also hopes students will be motivated to consider the entrepreneurial side of esports, such as actually designing and creating games. 

 While many Black teens are gamers, this stat doesn’t seem to translate to those who hold jobs in the gaming industry. An estimated 83 percent of Black teens play video games, while 68 percent of video game creators are of European or Caucasian descent, according to data from the International Game Developers Association.

 Michael Davis, Jr., a high school teacher in Nashville, is taking the esports course at TSU. He says he’s been inspired to learn “to create the game,” and not just play it. He wants his students to do the same. 

Tiffany Obiogbolu. (submitted photo)

 “I tell them about TSU, and its esports program,” says Davis. “I tell them they should consider TSU for what it has to offer that the other schools here in town don’t have.” 

Collegiate StarLeague (CSL), with some 2,000 schools and 100,000 players, recently announced a partnership with the HBCU Esports Alliance (HEA) to start a 16-team HBCU esports league to begin competition in early 2021. TSU is with the HBCU eSports League, which is powered by Cxmmunity and Amazon’s Twitch.

 “That’s just phenomenal,” says Tiffany Obiogbolu, who is taking the TSU esports course. “Esports is a great bridge between various industries and where technology will continue to go. Being able to solve real world problems through a video game aspect, will provide a multitude of results.”

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
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About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.