UC Irvine announced the launch of an official e-sports initiative with the backing of Riot Games and iBuyPower. At the program's center is a 3,500-square-foot facility with a stage for competitions, 80 personal computers and a live broadcasting studio. This space will serve as a major social hub for both the university's student body and for the whole of Southern California. It will also be available for classes and research projects.
This is a major step forward for collegiate esports as gaming continues its ascension of the media sphere. Storied campus stadiums and arenas such as Michigan's Big House and Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse are massive attractions for prospective students and alumni alike. University investment in dedicated facilities for esports communities will help foster and propel this era of growth.
- UC Irvine (@UCIrvine) March 30, 2016
Riot Games is no stranger to collegiate esports. Their University League of Legends program (uLoL) hosts a campus series that has already seen coverage from their League Championship Series broadcast team. uLoL helps gamers at more than 300 campuses across North America find a community of summoners to breach the rift with. The series comes to its conclusion at PAX East in Boston with a live broadcast on April 23-24.
The final four includes the defending champions from the University of British Columbia, Robert Morris University, University of Maryland and Georgia Tech University. Each team managed to win their way through a final bracket after a regular season that featured 32 teams split into four conferences. Aside from Georgia Tech, who finished second, the other three placed first in regular-season play and ride on a wave of high expectations.
Riot Games is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, including $30,000 for each player on the winning team. Ramon Hermann, Riot Games' head of the collegiate program, and Michael Sherman, the collegiate esports program manager, said the game-maker hopes to continue providing support for collegiate esports. They want to ensure high-level game play from their university affiliates. Creating a place for competition is only the beginning. They hope to be in touch with more universities and colleges to create similar programs.
With UCI's esports arena, Riot seeks to create a better version of the PC cafes, which hold immense popularity in other parts of the world. In Korea, for example, PC Bangs number in the thousands and serve as a stronghold for gaming communities. Riot hopes to build upon those existing models to help UCI reel in gamers from their own Ethernet cords. One of the biggest draws of this program will be the ability to attract hordes of players to the same space. Like most clubs and teams, it will be a space that brings like-minded people together.
The grand opening of the UCI esports arena is slated for fall 2016. With up to 10 academic scholarships up for grabs, UCI will become a highly touted destination for the nation's top young gamers. One of the biggest deterrents for kids and parents alike when it comes to esports is the need to put school aside for professional gaming. This new initiative from UCI will combine the best of both worlds and may serve as a model stepping stone for future gamers and gaming programs.
As for how far universities have come with the gaming side? Tune in to the uLoL final at PAX East and see for yourself.