Cal Berkeley to partner with NRG Esports

UC Berkeley is partnering with NRG Esports and the San Francisco Shock to build a new community center and launch programs around esports. Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

NRG Esports and the San Francisco Shock will partner with University of California, Berkeley to launch a new community center and several esports initiatives on the university's flagship campus, NRG and the Shock told ESPN on Wednesday.

The university will renovate and repurpose an academic center of one of its campus residence halls, which will be sponsored by NRG and the Shock, the Northern California-based Overwatch League team that shares ownership with NRG. The center will feature academic, health and wellness programs for student gamers, as well as host regular events, such as a San Francisco Shock watch party scheduled for Wednesday and future events. The partnership will also utilize NRG's experience to help explore potential opportunities to tie in esports with academic courses.

UC Berkeley will not yet sponsor scholarships for its existing esports clubs nor denote these clubs as varsity programs, like Utah, Georgia Southern and others have done in the past two years. UC Berkeley interim vice chancellor for student affairs Stephen Sutton told ESPN that doing so is an "ultimate goal" for the university moving forward.

"We're just growing this set of partnerships now," Sutton said. "We're starting with this community center, as we're calling it, rather than an arena, because we really want to focus on the concept community where a lot of things happen there; even things like TED Talks, for example, where people come in and talk about the gaming industry and jobs in the gaming industry. From our perspective, this is designed to be a holistic community environment rather than just a place where students compete."

In addition, UC Berkeley, NRG and the Shock are starting a student-led women in gaming initiative that will work to promote diversity and provide opportunity for female students with interests in gaming and esports.

"Thanks to the new center and our partnerships, we can build on that dedication to promote gender equality in the gaming community, in addition to creating new opportunities for the entire student body," UC Berkeley student and gaming community leader Cherie Lin said in a press release.

"By investing in this esports program, we're investing in the future: technology, reinvented community, new learning models, and of course, the students," NRG and Shock CEO Andy Miller said. "Not only is UC Berkeley one of the most prestigious institutions for higher learning in the world, but it also runs the best collegiate esports program in the country. We look forward to the many things we can do together not just in our Northern California market, but hopefully throughout the esports community as well."

The deal comes as the Shock continues to establish its brand in the Northern California territory. Miller told ESPN that where the Shock will play in future seasons of the Overwatch League -- when that league decides to move its franchises to their home cities -- has not yet been determined. He said that the Berkeley campus, located less than an hour from the heart of San Francisco, presents a "good option" as the team assesses where it will call home.

NRG was founded in 2015 by Miller and 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, who are both minority owners of the Sacramento Kings. Miller, a former executive at Apple, and Mastrov are both Northern California residents.

Since launching NRG, the team has raised money from the likes of actress and singer Jennifer Lopez, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, former New York Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez and four-time NBA Champion Shaquille O'Neal. The team launched the Shock in October and that team began competing in the Overwatch League in January.