By Jeanine Erikat and Nicole Wong
UC Irvine finalized plans last month for a collegiate eSports program which will be implemented this fall. The university, where 72% of the student population considers themselves gamers, will be the first public research university to enact an eSports program.
UCI officials say that the $655,000 program, complete with scholarships, coaches and an arena, will establish UCI as one of the nation’s premier gaming schools and attract scores of prospective students interested in computer science and game design.
“Essentially, we would be bringing not only talent in gaming, but also prospects in other fields who will choose UCI over places such as Berkeley and LA simply because UCI now offers something to them that they don’t,” said ASUCI President Parshan Khosravi.
With the largest computer science major in the country and proximity to many computer and gaming companies, UC Irvine already provides student gamers with unique opportunities and experience, which the eSports program will expand upon, according to ASUCI Assistant Director and UCI eSports Acting Director, Mark Deppe.
“As our students graduate, this program has the potential to bridge the campus with careers in the technology and gaming industry,” said Deppe, who spearheaded the program.
He assures that the eSports program will be no different from other sports programs on campus.
“We plan to have our gamers model healthy lifestyles in terms of balancing academics, social life, work, gaming, nutrition and exercise,” he said. “We anticipate the lifestyle of our gamers will be very similar to that of top college athletes. They will practice several times a week, prepare for matches and be ambassadors for the university.”
Deppe explains that League of Legends, a popular computer game, will be the primary focus of the new eSports team in the coming year. The team will initially only compete in League of Legends tournaments with the goal of including other games as the program gains momentum.
Though program costs do include student scholarships, equipment, renovation costs, programs, academic support, IT support and staff salaries with benefits, Deppe and his team have committed not to use any funds from the university to directly support the program. Scholarships and funding will be provided by the program’s partners, iBUYPOWER and Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends.
“This effort is truly entrepreneurial with the goal of being completely self-supporting,” said Deppe.
The coaching staff would include one part-time coach to assist with strategy and game planning. There will also be possible opportunities for analyst positions for students interested in coaching.
In addition, the conversion of the Zot Zone into the eSports area will take about two months, but Deppe says the program team will have from mid-June through mid-September to make the necessary upgrades and install the equipment. The costs are currently estimated to be $250,000 covered by sponsorship support.
Aside from logistics, bringing eSports to UCI and acknowledging it at the collegiate level is revolutionary, according to many UCI gamers themselves.
“I think it’s about time that we try to end the stigma of gamers,” said third-year Julia Hoang. “Gaming is not merely a way to waste time for recreational purposes, it truly is a culture in itself that gives people a place to be themselves.”
Fourth-year Gene Gonzalez agrees that eSports is a social experience, and hopes the program will bring UCI gamers together.
“I think it is a great idea as it can be for students to interact with each other and form friendships they wouldn’t have likely made if they weren’t playing League,” said Gonzalez.
Cindy Wang, the president of League of Legends at UCI, is proud to be a part of the movement.
“We are the trendsetters,” said Wang. “With a recognized name as UCI, other colleges will be looking to follow our footsteps. Many students from different schools in the SoCal gaming community have constantly posted on social media about how jealous they are, but also how proud they are to be able to watch first hand a huge step for colleges to truly appreciate and legitimatize video gaming as an acceptable alternative to sports and other extracurricular activities, especially at this level.”
She hopes that the sustainability and anticipated success of eSports at UCI will be realized this fall, as the program launches.
“One day,” said Wang, “students will be walking Ring Road with gaming gods.”