College sports are changing with the times; a field once dominated almost exclusively by basketball and football teams is turning over a new chapter. A new wave of competitive entertainment is hitting the mainstream. And now, this new contender has the official support of the nationally-ranked Entertainment Arts and Engineering program. That’s right, varsity esports have arrived at the U.
For those of you unaware, esports are one of the fastest growing entertainment trends in recent history. For a comparison in numbers; the 2015 Super Bowl, one of the most watched television programs in history, attracted about 114.4 million viewers, while the 2015 international League of Legends World Championship peak viewer count hit around 14 million, and total viewer count was 36 million. For the overall esports championships, total view count reached a staggering 360 million.
Needless to say, esports are a massive entertainment genre which is only growing in prestige and popularity. And it shows no signs of stopping. Games are being added on a yearly basis to this exciting new world of competitive entertainment. The first University of Utah team is going to be for League of Legends, but the program is looking to quickly expand to other popular titles, which could include Overwatch, DOTA 2, Hearthstone, CS:GO, or StarCraft 2.
This is a huge step for the University and local esports in general. It’s the first program of its kind out of the Power Five Athletics Conference (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern.) On top of that, this new program presents students at the university with their first official opportunity to take part in a school-sponsored esports program; up until now, local players have had to rely on student groups like Crimson Gaming to take part in esports activities.
This also presents a new opportunity to combine two massive and passionate groups at the U, the gaming community, and the local sports community. “EAE is proud to elevate competitive gaming at the U,” says Robert Kessler, director of the EAE Department “We think it is a great opportunity for our students, the vibrant gaming community here on campus and Utah fans, in general, to come together and watch these players hone their skills and play competitively to represent our school.”
Speaking of Crimson Gaming and other on-campus student groups; we don’t want to forget that student involvement from all parts, as well as assistance from school administration, was integral in creating this fantastic possibility.
The director of the EAE esports team, A.J. Dimick, says “esports has had a dramatic rise in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years – especially on college campuses… We think college esports is a great opportunity and we want our students to be part of it.” The university has done an excellent job in creating a safe and supportive environment for esports driven clubs in the past; but with this new program offering official support, the talents and abilities of local esports contenders will without a doubt driven to new heights.
I am personally looking forward to seeing what great teams are born from this new program.
Dimick hopes the new collegiate team will kickstart all Power Five schools to form their own university-sponsored teams. “It is important for big colleges and their administrations to jump in,” said Dimick. “And we hope to encourage that.”