The University of Utah will become the first major sports university to officially sponsor competitive gaming.
According to Bloomberg, the first varsity eSports team will compete in Riot’s League of Legends collegiate league. As one of the five wealthiest organizations in college sports, their endorsement of the explosive eSports scene is a decisive statement about its future.
But the University of Utah won’t foot the bill for the scholarships from its massive $70 million sports budget. Instead, the scholarships will be funded by the university’s acclaimed Entertainment Arts & Engineering department. Program head A.J. Dimick didn’t specify how much they would initially invest. Still, his enthusiasm for the program — and eSports as a whole — is readily apparent. He asks other schools to “join us,” encouraging them to help “move this along together.”
Utah may be the first of the “Power Five,” but the University of California was the first on the map overall, investing $250,000 in a dedicated arena. At the time, UCI’s Acting Director of Esports Mark Deppe said:
Esports is the future of competition. Period. It transcends language, geography, race, age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability and many other identities. In five years many more schools will official programs and more structure will be in place to regulate and provide guidance to schools. Esports also has a huge opportunity to learn from the successes and shortcomings of traditional sports and provide a model for collegiate competition in the 21st century.
There is a steady flow of signs that suggest he’s right. ESPN believed that the industry was already “primed for growth” in early 2016, and that growth has reliably exceeded expectations.
Initially, UOU’s program will offer partial scholarships to its participants. Their eventual goal, however, is to broker sponsorship deals to expand into more games. If possible, they would eventually provide full scholarships for up to 35 talented students.
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