Activision Blizzard donates $4 million to University of Michigan to establish esports minor

Esports players compete in the Call of Duty League 2020 Season. (Ben-Pursell | Activision Blizzard Entertainment)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan announced Tuesday it will use a multimillion dollar gift from Activision Blizzard CEO Robert “Bobby” Kotick to establish an esports minor.

Housed in the University of Michigan School of Information, the multidisciplinary program will have an endowed chair and will commence in 2022.

Esports are spectator events of organized video game competitions. University of Michigan will use Kotick’s $4 million gift to fund a professor to develop the program, which will combine several disciplines including computer science, user experience and sports management.

Activision Blizzard is best known for its interactive entertainment enterprises Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and more.

Under Kotick’s 30-year leadership, Activision Blizzard has become one of the leading global video game holding companies, and is currently a member of the Fortune 500.

Kotick attended University of Michigan in the 1980s as an art history student, where he launched a technology company with a friend. He has been an ongoing supporter of the university.

Robert "Bobby" Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard. (Activision Blizzard Entertainment)

“Esports is poised for explosive growth, and I am thrilled to join the University of Michigan to develop a program that will cultivate the talent to meet the needs of this complex and evolving industry,” Kotick said in a news release. “Unlike traditional sports, esports is truly a participant sport that anyone can play and enjoy.

Read: University of Michigan launches competitive Esports program

“Most of the people watching are also playing -- this leads to greater enthusiasm, engagement and truly unlimited potential. University of Michigan combines world-class instruction, research and athletics, making them the perfect partner for a multidisciplinary collegiate program that will help shape the future of esports.”

The booming esports industry is expected to exceed $1 billion in 2021, according to the Newzoo Global Esports and Live Streaming Market Report. It also enjoys a growing fan base, which is expected to reach 729 million by the end of the year.

Globally, Activision Blizzard has nearly 400 million gamers.

“This generous gift by Bobby Kotick gives us an opportunity to contribute to an understanding of video gaming broadly and esports more specifically as a tremendously important cultural and economic phenomenon,” School of Information Dean Thomas Finholt said in a news release.

“The time is right; this is the right place to do it. I think it’s a natural fit at the University of Michigan, given our interest as an institution, as a student body and as alumni, in games.”

A Call of Duty League 2020 Season event. (Robert Paul | Activision Blizzard)

Other early campus partners in the multidisciplinary program include the School of Kinesiology and the College of Engineering.

The program’s flagship “blockbuster” course is expected to launch in the 2022-23 academic year and will be designed as a large-enrollment introductory course.

Students will engage with esports industry experts, platforms and teams while learning about the interaction between esports and video game businesses, the economic and demographic differences between traditional sports and esports, distribution platfoms, the competitive landscape and more.

“We’re literally at the edge of the water right now,” Mark Rosentraub, the Bruce and Joan Bickner Endowed Professor of Sport Management at the School of Kinesiology, said in a news release. “Esports has very different, unique aspects that we need to begin to understand. This is what makes it so exciting.”

Call of Duty League 2020 Season event. (Robert Paul | Activision Blizzard)

Nearly ten existing courses at the university that cover interactive design, data analytics, game development and economics of sport will be added to the minor. Other areas for study and research include the role women play in the gamin industry, game use and design, developmental and cognitive psychology, sports management and more.

“This is an area that is inherently multidisciplinary, and so it’s a great space to grow into,” Barry Fishman, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies at the School of Information and School of Education, whose research focuses on video games as models for learning environments said in a news release.

“It has the potential to connect lots of parts of campus in very productive ways that align with our mission as a public research university, to participate in understanding and building things the public can enjoy and learn from.”

Students compete in Esports online. (University of Michigan Esports)

In September 2020, U-M’s competitive esports program launched as a recreational sport.

Student coordinator of UMich Esports, Alex Downs helped the program to become an officially sponsored university organization. With aspirations to go to law school, Downs hopes to pursue a career in the growing industry.

“I think it’s amazing. The creation of a minor is a great step,” Downs said in a release. “It is really a validation of the profession and it gives our club legitimacy. I think some of the leadership who are graduating are going to be excited and a little shocked -- and maybe even a bit frustrated we can’t take advantage of the minor.”