Today, the University of Utah announced that they will be getting an eSports program. The university will first include the popular game, League of Legends, as a part of a varsity program–with other competitive games being added to the cycle at a later date. Utah is a part of the Pac-12 Conference, making it the first school in a major conference to plant their feet in the gaming world of sports.
As I mentioned above, the university plans on having more than just League as an included game. In fact, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, there’ll be a total of four games. That leaves room for speculation on what the remaining three games will be. Counterstrike: Global Offensive is a likely possibility. With Super Smash Brothers: Melee being off the MLG cycle for awhile now, maybe universities will scoop the game up to give professional players better opportunities. Or, maybe the fairly new formed following for Overwatch will catch different university’s eye. It’s also very likely that Dota 2, and its players, will be picked up by schools in the future. It’s a world of possibilities.
The University of Utah will be giving partial scholarships to student-athletes, the goal to have over 30 players and coaches on scholarship. This is a big step forward for the eSports community. Not only will players, many of whom spent hours upon hours mastering their game, be given the opportunity to show off their skills at a collegiate level compared to that of Division I Football, but they’ll also get an education at a reduced cost. Hopefully, at some point in the future, these athletes (gamers sweat too, alright!) will be given full scholarships. But, for now, the fact that they’ll be given any sort of funding to attend a university is a great start to a future full of possibilities.
This big step isn’t the first for League of Legends‘ developers, Riot Games, as they have introduced a collegiate cycle of tournaments with the uLoL competition. They also introduced scholarships to smaller schools like the University of California in Irvine, Robert Morris College in Chicago, and the University of Pikeville in Kentucky. The Media Director of the University of Pikeville, Bruce Parsons, even stated, “They’ll have to have a certain GPA. We’ll look at them like student athletes. There will be practice time and video time when they have to study other teams for upcoming competitions.”
League of Legends may be the first game to be played at a major conference, but it most certainly won’t be the last. As the eSports community grows, the demand for more and more exposure to competitive matches being played will be overwhelming. Professional matches of League of Legends or CS: GO can reach up to 100,000 and more viewers on Twitch, which shows that competitive games like those have a solid fan base and a future with other major schools other than the University of Utah.