Trailblazer signs on to help launch WVU esports academic program

The foundation for West Virginia University’s academic esports program will be laid with help from a leader in the esports industry, David Chen, an entrepreneur with strong ties to the gaming industry.

Chen is tasked with developing the framework for the esports minor which begins in early 2023 with three core interdepartmental courses from the College of Applied Human Sciences and the John Chambers College of Business and Economics. Electives will be offered from those colleges along with the Reed College of Media.

“Esports is the future. It’s one of the fastest growing sports out there, and the education piece of it gives us this whole new way for students to come in and enjoy things they love while showing a path toward being financially secure,” Chen said.

“Everything they’re going to be doing will be things that are happening in real-time. It’s not hypothetical or things that are going to be happening 10 years from now. These courses and this program will center on real things happening in the market right now that WVU can offer these students.”

Chen, who will be teaching one class each semester within the minor, brings years of business experience to his new role. He created and developed the Chinese Services Group for Deloitte Mexico from 2005-15 before starting the venture capital firm BLCP Capital in 2015. In 2017, he became one of the first investors in Faze Clan, a popular esports and entertainment organization.

“There aren’t many people getting involved who have experience like David does,” Josh Steger, WVU esports director, said. “When people think of esports, Faze Clan is one of those brands that come to mind for a lot of people. The knowledge and connections he can bring from the work he’s done in the past is such a valuable piece to have as we look to build this program and keep growing esports here.”

Along with his work with Faze Clan, Chen is the founder and president of the North American Collegiate League. The NACL works with more than 300 universities and has held more than 250 esports tournaments while having partnerships with Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English Premier League and NASCAR.

“It’s really a testimony to WVU and the administration here for being so advanced and understanding the necessity and need for what’s coming in this industry,” Chen said.

“For me, what’s the most exciting is that we’re not just outsiders creating this environment or just investing in it, we’re really a part of it. We’re going to be bringing in real-world applications to our students.”

Esports is now a $1 billion-plus industry annually in the U.S. Players compete individually or as part of teams in a variety of games at the amateur and professional levels.

Last fall, WVU announced the start of its competitive esports program. The program’s first recruit, Noah Johnson, won the 2021 Level Next Madden National Championship at the collegiate level and won the Ultimate Madden Championship Series professionally.

In addition to Madden NFL, West Virginia also fields teams in Rocket League, Call of Duty and Valorant. The Mountaineer Rocket League and Valorant teams made national semifinalist appearances in tournaments in May.

Read more about the University’s esports program in the latest issue of WVU Magazine.

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