New Jersey wants to be the country's epicenter for competitive video gaming.

The esports industry has been fairly mainstream for a while in other parts of the world. To take the lead stateside, a task that has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Garden State continues to look for ways to attract the industry's companies and events.

As part of one of its biggest moves yet in this sector, New Jersey will serve as headquarters to Conference One, a first-of-its-kind college esports league. Rutgers University and Stockton University have agreed to compete this fall semester; the conference aims to bring together teams of students from more than 128 schools across the country.

"I would use the analogy that Conference One will be to collegiate esports what the NCAA is to traditional sports," said William Penders, senior advisor at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The NJEDA's Office of Economic Transformation is tasked with focusing on business sectors that have potential for innovation and significant economic impact in the state. Sports betting and esports fit that bill.

"We've been systematically, over the course of the past year, engaging with private sector companies focused on esports and esports wagering and esports marketing and content," Penders said.

Penders said New Jersey's population density, its location between New York City and Philadelphia, and the amenities and venues available in Atlantic City, make the Garden State a prime contender as an esports leader.

"Atlantic City is a very unique destination," Penders said. "It's a natural hub for esports, especially when we get to the point when we can convene together again."

Gambling on esports is legal in New Jersey on an event-by-event basis. Bets are being accepted as we speak on a two-week long global esports tournament that runs through Sept. 13.

"Esports is quickly emerging as an economic and cultural force on par with many other traditional sports, and it is important that New Jersey accommodate the many ways fans engage with their favorite teams and events," said state Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck. "Allowing betting on esports not only provides more variety for sports wagering enthusiasts, but also makes New Jersey more attractive to the innovative companies that drive this growing industry."

The growth of esports has expanded greatly in the face of the COVID-19 health crisis, as people spend more time at home and look for options in virtual spaces. There are 12 professional esports leagues across the world. Industry revenues are expected to surpass $1 billion in 2020.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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