Blizzard, Fiesta Bowl partner for Tespa Overwatch championships

The Fiesta Bowl Organization and Blizzard Entertainment have announced a partnership for Tespa's Overwatch Collegiate Championship. The 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a College Football Playoff semifinal between Ohio State and Clemson, drew nearly 20 million viewers. Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire

The Fiesta Bowl organization and Blizzard Entertainment, along with Tespa, a college esports tournament organization, announced Thursday that they will partner for the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championships in February.

The decision makes Arizona State University the home of the league's collegiate championship in Overwatch. The top four teams in the country will convene at ASU on Feb. 17, and following an exhibition match between ASU and the University of Arizona will battle for the title.

This marks the first time a collegiate football bowl organization has partnered with a game publisher to organize an esports competition. Given the growth of esports and the ability to reach out to a new scene, the Fiesta Bowl Organization was quick to embrace competitive gaming.

"Locally we've always been involved on the front side of doing different events and doing things to drive, ultimately, value to us that we can give back to the community," Fiesta Bowl executive director Mike Nealy said. "Being a non-profit, we're out looking for new things to do."

The Overwatch Collegiate National Championships will air on Twitch, and the Fiesta Bowl is looking into promoting it during the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26 and possibly even during the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30. The latter features a high-profile matchup between the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions and No. 12 Washington Huskies.

The Fiesta Bowl is part of the College Football Playoff semifinal rotation and was one of last year's semifinals; the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a primetime matchup between the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes, drew 19.6 million viewers.

"The passion and tradition of college football are a perfect match to the drama and excitement of Overwatch collegiate esports," CEO and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment Mike Morhaime said in a press release. "We're excited to see some of the top college Overwatch players competing for scholarships and glory as part of the Fiesta Bowl festivities."

UC Berkeley was last year's Tespa champion and will head to Tempe, Arizona, to try to repeat. But last year's runner-up, the University of Toronto, will also be returning for a chance at redemption. UC Irvine, which sponsors varsity esports, and UC San Diego have also qualified for the national championships.

As with most high-stakes Tespa competitions, this event isn't just about a trophy, but prize money in the form of scholarships. The top prize is a healthy $7,000 for the six starters and backups on the championship team. Tespa also sponsors Heroes of the Dorm, a Heroes of the Storm final that provides scholarship dollars to the victors and will take place in Spring 2018.

As a non-profit, the Fiesta Bowl organization has given over $2.5 million to local charities this year, the most of any bowl organization, according to the group. Nealy said he hopes esports will become another vehicle to not only help students interested in competition and education but to continue to support local charities.

"These are smart kids that colleges understand -- and are giving scholarships to -- because they want that brain power," Nealy said. "They understand that these are the brightest of the kids that happen to be using their skills through a video game."