ATLANTIC CITY — A new operation along the boardwalk at Stockton University aims to help pave a path for the city and the state toward becoming a leader in the industry of competitive video gaming.

The Esports Innovation Center launched operations with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October, as experts following the growing industry look to increase New Jersey's share of the billion-dollar pie.

The center has taken over a part of Stockton's residential complex. The nonprofit operation was set up in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. A memorandum of understanding to establish the center had been signed in June 2021.

A big part of the center's mission, according to Andrew Weilgus, executive director, is getting casinos more involved with esports.

"We want to help define and craft a casino strategy where they can take advantage of this growing boom of esports, both with events that come into Atlantic City, as well as potential wagering opportunities," Weilgus said.

Betting on esports competitions was given the green light in New Jersey earlier this year.

The center also will focus on workforce innovation and engaging on the community level. Working with local partners, Weilgus said, they can ensure that the skills needed to succeed in the esports ecosystem is accessible for kids in Atlantic City and surrounding areas.

"Most importantly, it will give them skills that are transferable and easily employable," Weilgus said.

The esports industry has exploded over recent years. Stockton's esports team went from just 12 students in 2019 to nearly 800 today. This year, the team finished second in the world in an esports competition.

This fall, Stockton, based in Galloway, debuted a course all about esports and event planning. The university is in the process of establishing a bachelor's degree in esports management.

It was predicted esports could bring in $1.38 billion globally in 2022.

"There's a lot of opportunity for competitive play, but also we see a lot of students who aren't the hardcore video gamers, but it fits the lifestyle they are living and they want to be involved," said Scott Huston, chief information officer for Stockton. "For us, it's all about providing another avenue for students to fit into the university."

Part of the center's goal is to attract esports companies to set up shop and build games in Atlantic City.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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