In a continuing trend, collegiate esports just received its biggest sponsor yet: the Pac-12, one of the big six collegiate conferences, will throw its might behind esports this year.
The Pac-12 announced network support for esports competitions in its end of the year roundup. The presidents and chancellors acknowledged "growing interest" amongst students and will begin hosting live studio competitions and tournaments. These will operate both separately and in conjunction with an unnamed Pac-12 championship event.
"eSports is a natural fit for many of our universities located in the technology and media hubs of the country," said Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner. "Pac-12 Networks' commitment to innovation as well as its natural tie to our universities and established media platform make it the perfect organization to develop the framework for eSports intercollegiate competition."
The heart of North American esports is located within the Pac-12 landscape as the Los Angeles area is home to both Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment. The uLoL (Riot) and Heroes of the Dorm (Blizzard) events are the two largest collegiate esports competitions in the world.
In early April, the Pac-12's Arizona State University ran through the Heroes of the Dorm 64-team bracket to secure a championship. It was a redemption run for them after they lost in the championship last year to another Pac-12 member, the University of California-Berkley. In short,the conference is already poised to the lead the collegiate foray into esports.
Likewise, the Big 10 took its initial steps into esports by hosting an exhibition League of Legends match between Michigan State University and the Ohio State University. Both teams maintain steady presences in Riot Games' uLoL series. The event took place at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Boston, one of the largest video-game related conventions in the world. Both Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment have already handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money in the past couple of years.
Colleges have responded appropriately. Robert Morris University became the first university to offer gaming scholarships in 2014. This year, Miami University (Ohio) announced a varsity esports program. The biggest investment, though, comes from another California school. Earlier this year, UC Irvine launched the biggest esports initiative yet: in addition to scholarships, it will offer a 3,500 square-foot facility complete with a stage for competitions, a live broadcasting studio, and almost a hundred personal computers.
The Pac-12 will announce more specifics in the coming months, including game titles and event formats. While collegiate esports is still young, this is the Pac-12's response to the passionate fan-base that lines its halls and classrooms.