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Why We Should Elevate Hawaiʻi as a Global Esports Hub

June 13, 2022

Why we should elevate Hawaiʻi as a global esports hub

By Kelly J. Ueoka, President

As we transition to an economy focused on innovation and technology, Hawaiʻi has an opportunity to lead the world in more than just tourism and hospitality. The “Aloha State” is prioritizing creating a sustainable and scalable economy and embracing new opportunities by leveraging its ready workforce, temperate climate, and famously diverse culture. One such opportunity lies in esports (short for “electronic sports”), also known as “gaming.”

People may not realize that esports and gaming represents a huge component of the global technology industry. Gaming refers to the culture and practice of playing video games in a connected, interactive environment, often competitively. It is not an exaggeration to say that gaming encapsulates the future of tech. Companies like Microsoft prioritize gaming innovation in part because of its growth potential. By 2025, the global gaming industry is estimated to be worth $268 billion.

Esports has also caught the eye of government entities. Here’s why:

  • U.S. esports revenues broke $1 billion in 2021 and are expected to climb to over $1.6 billion by 2024.
  • An economic impact study from ESL Gaming revealed the real, positive impacts major esports competitions had on their host cities. ESL’s 2019 DreamHack brought in $3.6 million in direct spending and generated nearly $160,000 in taxes and fees for the City of Dallas in just two days.
  • Hitmarker uncovered that despite the pandemic, the gaming job market continued to grow, increasing by 5% from 2020 to 2021, translating to more than 41,000 jobs.

Apart from the potential profits and jobs, gaming represents an extremely complex computational workload, and, therefore, pushes the envelope of computing capabilities at every turn. As one of the world’s fastest growing forms of media, gaming is interactive, dynamic, and variable, meaning that there are a virtually infinite number of potential scenarios each time a game is played. Advances in gaming, where technology must constantly evolve in real-time, have untold implications for enterprise and personal computing.

These young gamers are exposed to advanced technologies and computer science, and learn how to think critically and engage in digital worlds. Providing safe and equitable access to gaming facilities, such as computers and consoles, could put middle and high school-aged kids on the path to developing a competitive skillset and finding a fulfilling field of interest.

For students, gaming and esports can represent a legitimate gateway into STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) interests, academic studies, and eventual careers. A 2020 study tracked students’ beliefs and attitudes before and after participating in an esports program hosted by the North American Scholastic esports Federation (NASEF). After a year, the students’ most positively shifted beliefs were “I know STEM is good for me” and “STEM is important for what I want to study later.”

Esports has also become a viable pathway to higher education through competitive programs and scholarships. Locally, Hawaiʻi Pacific University offers collegiate esports scholarships and has been nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art esports arena. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa earned its first tournament win at the Collegiate Valorant Fall Brawl in October 2021 and a month later, was nominated as a top 10 finalist for best collegiate esports program at the esports Awards in Arlington Texas. UH has also distinguished its esports program by being the first higher ed institution to host Overwatch League regular season tournaments, playoffs, and finals.

Hawaiʻi is well positioned to be a center for gaming excellence. Our geography, situated between the mainland and Asia, represents an ideal location from a global gaming standpoint. 45% of the world’s gamers (or 1.48 billion gamers) are based in Asia. The Overwatch League, the world’s first franchised esports league with 20 teams around the world, recently chose Hawaiʻi as the location for its 2021 playoffs and grand finals.

Given the growing recognition of Hawaiʻi as a gaming hub and Hawaiʻi’s pending infrastructure investments, the state’s broadband capabilities have the potential to leapfrog ahead of other regions. Hawaiʻi is the ultimate melting pot, with various cultures and communities living and working together every day. Gaming and esports is a global phenomenon that brings people together from all over the planet in unexpected ways. As we embrace this next chapter of technology development in Hawaiʻi, gaming, which represents the future of computing on so many levels, is a vital opportunity for our state.

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