SRU alumnus teaching esports class about problem gambling


Students participating in an e-sports event on campus

Slippery Rock University students compete in an esports event at SRU in October 2019. Esports have gained tremendous popularity across college campuses, and a University Seminar class about esports at SRU will examine the gambling and addiction side of the industry.

Nov. 10, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Gambling and playing video games are similar in that they can become highly addictive if not practiced in moderation. Addiction can be compounded if someone were to gamble on the video games they play, or even bet on the outcomes of other gamers, especially with the emerging popularity of watching esports. Michael Buzzelli, a 2010 Slippery Rock University graduate with a degree in public health, has been paying close attention to these addictions. As the associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, Buzzelli is one of the first people in Ohio to work exclusively in problem gambling prevention.

"There's problematic gaming as well as problematic gambling and they both present similar behaviors," Buzzelli said. "The behaviors and reasons why someone might go down a problematic path and develop an addiction or disorder are going to be very similar, and the consequences and outcomes are going to be very similar as well."

Buzzelli started his career in public health at nearly at the same time that Ohio legalized casino gambling. The Ohio state legislature passed laws to allocate a small percentage of casinos' revenues to agencies and nonprofit organizations, such as PGNO, that raise awareness and support programs to prevent problem gambling.



There's no denying the concurrent rise of esports and sports betting, with more than 35 million monthly esports viewers in the U.S., and the overall sports betting industry on track to generate $44 billion in revenue in the U.S. this year, both with increases of more than 10% from the previous year. According to the National Survey of Gambling Attitudes and Gambling Experiences, more than 10% of Pennsylvanians who said they have gambled on sports have also gambled on esports.

Buzzelli will return to SRU, Nov. 16, to speak to two sections (nearly 100 students) of the University Seminar class, Game On: This is Esports, taught by Seth Jenny, assistant professor of exercise and rehabilitative sciences. Although this course is not part of the new esports minor at SRU, the first-year students from a variety of majors who take the class are challenged to think critically and creatively and deepen their intellectual inquiry by exploring a topic, in this case, esports and video gaming, which is Jenny's area of research.

Jenny is one of the foremost researchers of esports, having founded the Esports Research Network and serving as the deputy editor of the International Journal of Esports. He was also a consultant for a professional esports league, ELEAGUE. 

"Other objectives for this course are cultural awareness and diversity and inclusion, and this is where Mike fits in," Jenny said. "I'd say more than a majority of the students in both sections would not have even thought that there's such thing as fantasy esports. It's really great to have Mike come in because I'm not an expert on the gambling side of esports."

In addition to Buzzelli coming to SRU, Josh Ercole will speak to the class remotely. Ercole is the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania Inc., which does similar work as PGNO, only in Pennsylvania.

"I'm a huge ambassador for SRU and I'm excited to come back to campus," Buzzelli said. "I hope to give the students a sense of moderation and what is too much when it comes to gambling, gaming and using substances and how a lot of these behavioral challenges present the same. The focus of my message will be on gaming and gambling, but we'll also get into stigmas, mental health, anxiety and depression, because a lot of folks who develop problematic gambling and gaming, that's what's presenting first, and they're using it as a maladaptive coping mechanism."

"These are life lessons that the students need to hear and maybe some of them are suffering from it themselves (currently)," Jenny said.

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