State lawmakers don't know much yet about the increasingly popular world of competitive video gaming, a.k.a. esports, but they know New Jersey should be part of the fun.
The industry, which relies on live digital battles between players with controllers, is projected to rake in $1.65 billion worldwide by 2021. And that could just be scratching the surface of financial potential.
"New Jersey has the opportunity to really be the first mover in an industry that will be everything, just like we did with casino gambling, just like we did with the lawsuit that allowed for sports betting," said Anthony Gaud, president of InGame Esports in Atlantic City.
Gaud was one of the experts invited in early Mach to a hearing of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, which focused on esports and the infrastructure, gaming technology and regulatory challenges involved, as well as best practices to help New Jersey "become a leader in esports tourism."
Gaud referred to esports as the "world's biggest unknown major participatory event." In Seoul, South Korea, he said, esports players have celebrity status. Electronic sports is "their national pastime," he said.
"Young people are increasingly playing video games competitively, and there is a large market for New Jersey to tap into to emerge as a primary hub for the esports community, whether it is for technology, wagering or hosting events," Committee Chairman Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, said after the hearing.
New Jersey's sports betting law does allow wagering on esports, as long as every player involved in an event is at least 18 years old.
Scott Zackman, competitive director for Rutgers Esports, said major esports events are "few and far between" on the East Coast, and especially in New Jersey.
"Going forward what I want to see a lot more of throughout the country, not just at Rutgers, is schools starting esports programs, because it's so important," Zackman said. "It's for the people who don't want to go out and play football or lacrosse, or maybe they can't because of a physical disability."
But the college-aged crowd represents just a fraction of those hyper-focused on video-game competition. Fair Haven is home to the country's first middle-school esports team. And many top players in a number of esports' major games are in their 30s.