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University of Utah Becomes First Power 5 School with a Varsity eSports Team

12 Jul, 2017

By: Michael Popke

Still need proof that eSports is a real thing that’s altering the sports landscape? We recently reported on a preseason eSports training facility that opened in California, and now comes word that the University of Utah will be the first school from a Power 5 Conference to field a varsity team in competitive eSports.

Tryouts will be held in the fall, and scholarships between $500 and $1,000 (for now, until — you know — sponsorships) will be awarded. Local media outlets report that the team will feature “35 players, managers and coaches who excel in one or more of four popular games: League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch and a yet-to-be-announced title.

“If we can get buy-in from Ute nation, and other schools can get buy-in from their fan bases, I think the ceiling for this is limitless,” AJ Dimick, director of Utah’s new eSports program, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “This could become a very mainstream collegiate experience.”

Right now, the university’s eSports program falls under the umbrella of Utah’s acclaimed Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, but officials say they eventually envision eSports as part of the athletics department.

“If you think about traditional athletics and sports, it’s the same damn thing,” Robert Kessler, director of the Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, told the paper. “It’s competition. It’s training. There’s intellectual aspects. There’s teamwork. It is a sport.”

Of course, throughout the history of collegiate sports, there has been no shortage of debate over whether athletes in specific sports should be eligible for scholarship funding. (cheerleading is one example, but there are many). The addition of gaming scholarships can be looked at as another link in that chain.

But if contemplating scholarships for gaming isn’t something you can wrap your head around, it’s better to get a view from 30,000 feet. The eSports Observer has interesting insights into the ROI colleges can gain from instituting eSports programs.

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