Akron plans to bring varsity esports to campus in fall 2018

The University of Akron announced Monday it will sponsor varsity esports beginning in the 2018-19 academic year. "It is important for UA to be ahead of the curve," university president Matthew Wilson told ESPN. Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Not even the holiday-season lull can stop universities from joining in on the varsity esports fun.

The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, announced its entry into the varsity esports world on Monday through its Zips Gaming program that will begin in the fall of 2018. Under the supervision of Michael Fay Jr., a former production director at Softlocke and esports commentator, the program aims to turn the Division I Mid-American Conference university into a collegiate esports powerhouse. This includes the establishment of dedicated e-arenas, varsity teams for four titles, an associated club and a behind-the-scenes crew of staff as well as student coaches.

The program will follow traditional varsity athletics standards, complete with tryouts, uniforms and mandated practice schedules.

A projected 35 to 40 students will officially represent the university in intercollegiate competitions for League of Legends, Hearthstone, Rocket League and Overwatch, according to the university. Merit scholarships will be given to both these players and their student coaching staff, starting at $1,000 for the former and up to $5,000 for the latter. Another 200 to 300 students are slated to be part of the associated club, continuing the university's existing gaming community that started as the Akron Video Game Club.

"There are many reasons why the University of Akron is investing in esports," university president Matthew Wilson said. "Not only are we confident that we will attract top students through our program, but our program will provide innovative pathways for UA students to flourish academically, socially and professionally."

Zips Gaming won't involve gamers alone, either, but much of the University of Akron's 22,500-strong student body. The program will leverage the expertise of the university's many departments, including the Emmy Award-nominated ZTV TV station, to help kick-start itself. Examples of this cited by Wilson include graphic design students creating the club's branding and publishing materials, health students assisting with nutrition plans and engineering students building the e-arena's hardware.

In addition, the university's College of Business Administration is set to introduce an esports-related program in the near future.

"The career pathways continue to proliferate as the esports industry is anticipated to grow to a multibillion-dollar industry over the next several years," Wilson said. "It is important for UA to be ahead of the curve and responsive to the marketplace."

Applications for Zips Gaming are already open, with tryouts for the varsity teams taking place throughout the spring and summer semesters. Wilson said he anticipates Zips Gaming will be fully operational by the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

The University of Akron is the latest university from Ohio to launch a varsity esports program. It joins institutions such as Miami University, Lourdes University and Tiffin University in the state's bid to become a collegiate esports powerhouse.

Ohio State also participates in esports, albeit at the club level, and has taken part in events broadcast by the Big Ten Network in the past year.