U-M Information School Receives $4M Gift to Expand Esports

Donors are funding new programs at the University of Michigan.
esports gamer
Robert Kotick, CEO of video game company Activision Blizzard, donated $4 million to establish an esports minor at U-M. // Stock photo

Donors are funding new programs at the University of Michigan.

A $4 million gift from Robert Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, will support the creation of an endowed professorship and esports minor at the Ann Arbor university’s School of Information.

Esports are organized video game competitions played for spectators. The industry creates jobs for programmers, game developers, music composers, voice actors, event planners, broadcast producers, announcers, marketers, and more.

The esports industry is expected to top $1.08 billion in 2021 on its way to $1.6 billion in 2024. The fan base is expected to include nearly 729 million by the end of 2021, a 10 percent increase from 2020. Activision Blizzard has nearly 400 million gamers around the world.

Activision Blizzard is a giant in the rapidly growing interactive gaming industry, owning titles such as “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush.” The donation will allow the new professor to begin work next school year, tasked with developing a “blockbuster” course for the minor to be offered annually beginning the following year.

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

Thomas Finholt, dean of the School of Information, called U-M a “natural fit” for this minor.

“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,” Finholt says. “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.”

Kotick is a U-M alumnus. He is the co-founder and co-chairman of the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit that helps place veterans into careers, and sits on the boards of Coca-Cola Co., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Harvard-Westlake School in California.

U-M’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business received more than $1 million from metro Detroit’s Applebaum Family Philanthropy to support its Business+Impact initiative, a program created in 2018 that focuses on learning about poverty alleviation and social impact.

The donation will establish the Applebaum Family Business+Impact Experiences and Innovation Program, which will expand impact and create a permanently endowment fund for need-based internships and scholarships to students and support an innovator-in-residence program. Around 20 undergraduate and graduate students are expected to receive support through the new program.

The +Impact Studio was also established with the Business+Impact Initiative, which offers a space for students and faculty to develop business solutions.

“We are incredibly grateful to Applebaum Family Philanthropy for supporting our Business+Impact initiative and +Impact Studio. Their support will help us create new and innovative opportunities for our students who aspire to build a better world through business,” says Scott DeRue, dean of the business school. “This generous gift will enable students and faculty to partner directly with the business community to be catalysts for positive impact at Ross and beyond.”

Eugene Applebaum established the first chair in entrepreneurship at the school, in addition to funding the first-ever student-led venture fund in the country there, called the Wolverine Venture Fund.

The foundation has also recently bolstered its commitment to Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the school. Applebaum’s daughter, Pamela, serves on the Zell Lurie Institute Advisory Board.

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