Tespa, a collegiate esports club association under Blizzard Entertainment, announced its plan for the 2017-18 academic calendar on Wednesday, offering over $1 million in scholarships and prizes to students clashing in six games. It will also launch Tespa University, a platform for college players to connect and compete.
Leagues for Overwatch, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are returning from last year, alongside new additions of Blizzard's own World of Warcraft and StarCraft II, as well as Rocket League by Psyonix.
The extracurricular activities come in two tiers: Collegiate Series and Training Grounds. The former is a premier league for top-tier talents, while the latter welcomes all players to develop skills as an offseason open league.
The fall season will kick off with premier leagues for Overwatch, World of Warcraft and Rocket League, and the other titles will be spring's main feature in rotation. Adam and Tyler Rosen, the twin brothers who co-founded Tespa, say designating three games to each season makes sense for both the organization and students.
"With traditional sports, football opens in the fall and basketball will be in the spring," Adam Rosen said. "We also try to spread our premier season out, so that students don't have to compete at top levels at the entire duration of the year. We also think it is more compelling broadcasting experience."
Tespa will be showing six games every week and producing highlight programs. Adam Rosen said a detailed plan for broadcasting platforms will be announced before the season starts and the goal is to garner as much audience as possible.
The Rosens built the organization in 2012 as Texas eSports Association while attending University of Texas at Austin. The past five years saw its growth to 182 chapters and another 38 developing across North America. In previous seasons, only students in schools with active Tespa chapters were eligible for membership. Starting this year, Tespa University is opening enrollment to all college students in North America, including part-time and graduate students.
Karla Kraiss has been part of University Utah's Tespa chapter since her freshman year. The game programming major, returning for a fifth and final year this semester, says she is excited about the membership rule change.
"There are a lot of smaller universities where they can't start a chapter," Kraiss said. "We have a lot of people from the community, people from these small schools in Salt Lake City, just walking to the events we had but we couldn't let them participate. Now we can say, 'You are welcome to join us.'"
Kraiss said it still amazes her how the campus esports community has grown. Her first viewing party of League of Legends World Championship in 2013 had 30 to 40 people. A year later, over 250 gathered at 4 a.m. in the Megaplex Theatres. This past year, the party attendance doubled to standing-room only and attracted local media coverage. Utah also made history in April when it became the first Power 5 school with a varsity esports program.
Reminiscing about their dorm days as Longhorns, Adam and Tyler Rosen are optimistic that powerful brands like Texas and Utah will help attract broader audiences to college esports scene because of the inherent relations they have to the college brands.
"Anyone who isn't a gamer, isn't a hardcore follower of esports, would be able to see two powerhouses of college brands fighting against each other for a national championship title," Adam Rosen said. "That's really exciting because we think it's a great opportunity to introduce esports to a new audience and to make a lifelong fan."