We’ve been following the evolutionary milestones for eSports for some time now. What was once an event class considered equal parts fringe and foreign has made impressive strides towards the mainstream in mere years. It started with a small university granting scholarships for eAthletes, progressed into the realm of coverage on sports broadcasting giant ESPN, and made yet another leap with an eSports section of the pie being carved out by the NBA.
Not all progress towards the mainstream needs to be of a new type, of course, and eSports reached another milestone harkening back to its first, with the announcement that the University of Utah, a member of the Pac-12 Conference, has started its own varsity eSports program.
The University of Utah has announced a varsity esports program, starting with League of Legends. Part of the Pac-12 Conference, Utah is the first Power Five school to sponsor this type of program, and it doesn’t plan on stopping at one game.
The team, sponsored by the EAE video game development program, hopes to expand to a total of four games, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Students from the current campus esports group Crimson Gaming, as well as high school recruits, will be part of the team. Players will receive partial scholarships, with an eventual goal of over 30 student-athletes and coaches to be on scholarship.
There will always be arguments about whether eSports are sports in the traditional sense, as well as how good a thing it is that colleges are getting in on this at all, but from a market and industry standpoint the progression is all about interest and advertising dollars. For a school like the University of Utah to invest in this sort of thing, it’s likely it required the broadcasting success ESPN has had and the nod to that success that the NBA showed to push this along. And now that eSports has been formally introduced to one school in a Power Five conference, you should absolutely expect many of the other schools to follow suit.
The growth at this point may tend towards the exponential. Once the broadcasting and advertising revenues really start to kick in, eSports will be here in a very big way.