By Ian Edwards
In response to overwhelming student interest, a collegiate eSports team program has secured endorsements from ASUCI’s Legislative Council in addition to UCI’s Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, and is currently awaiting final approval by UCI’s budget office. Details are currently being finalized before an official announcement of the program is released in coming weeks.
Also known as electronic sports or professional gaming, eSports uses video games as a platform for competitive events. Players can establish teams to compete in specific games, and win conference titles and cash prizes at events with potentially hundreds of other players.
Even ESPN has devoted an entire wing of its organization and broadcast space to televise and assess gamers and their relative rankings on professional and collegiate levels.
Last quarter, ASUCI released a Gaming & eSports Survey to all students in order to assess the demand for a collegiate eSports team at UCI. The survey garnered over 1200 responses, and found that 89% of responders were in favor of an official collegiate eSports program at UCI.
The survey also found that 72% of UC Irvine students consider themselves gamers, and most responders considered gaming “huge” at UC Irvine. In regards to gaming preferences, the survey found that 43% of responders are primarily interested with League of Legends.
The prevalence of gaming is attested to with the number of gaming-based clubs and organizations already at UCI. The organization League of Legends at UCI has been profiled by the North American League of Legends Community News as “one of the most decorated collegiate eSports teams in the brief history of collegiate League of Legends.” Moreover, the UCI team has a vibrant history of back-to-back championships and a huge fanbase on campus.
Some UC campuses, including UC Davis and UC Berkeley, already have eSports club teams, but UC Irvine is slated to become the first UC campus with an official collegiate team. Additionally, if UCI’s eSports team secures final approval, it will become the first public research institution with an official eSports program.
At UCI, several organizations on campus already exist for the purpose of training gamers. The Training Room, for instance, is a UCI club which helps gamers develop and hone their skills and strategies.
According to Mark Deppe, the Assistant Director of Events & Student Programming at the office of Student Government & Student Media, the already-existing gaming culture at UCI makes it the ideal place for a collegiate eSports team.
Deppe cites many UC Irvine victories that recreational teams have won over the years. The UCI League of Legends team has won three national titles at the Riot Competitions. UCI has also won Super Smash Bros. titles at the Genysis 3 conference, a national competition featuring Super Smash Bros. tournaments.
Deppe also adds that UC Irvine’s extensive gaming community is one of the largest organizations on campus — even larger than Greek Life or basketball. The Associated Gamers of UCI is one the largest organizations on campus and it has been Deppe’s goal to work with them during the process of development for the collegiate program.
At the moment, there are few physical resources offered by the university to support the eSports program. However, a plan to convert the Zot Zone into an eSports arena was approved by the Student Center Board on Feb. 3rd of this year. Deppe says this space will give the gaming community at UCI “a homebase.” Deppe also mentions that scholarship opportunities could even be available for eSports students as a feature of the program.
Deppe also remarks that in the survey, students raised several concerns about how the program would be funded. He dispels these concerns, stating that the program would be self-sustaining and that zero state dollars would be going towards the program. Any needed funding would come from corporate sponsorships and incomes from the cafe that will run out of the future eSports arena.
Deppe says that eSports are beginning to break ground in becoming a mainstream fixture of the sports world, and will bring positive attention to UCI.
“It’s a movement…it knocks down barriers,” Deppe says. “It will be a worthwhile investment.”