The future is here. Utah will become the first Power 5 sports school to offer scholarships for varsity esports, the school announced Wednesday. The program will begin competition in League of Legends before joining other games in the future.
The school’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game development department will sponsor the esports program.
Here’s how department director Robert Kessler described the program’s makeup to ESPN:
“We plan to support four games. Each game will have a main team, one or two substitutes and a student coach. Depending on the games, we expect around 35 total students involved. All students [players, subs and coaches] will receive a partial scholarship,” EAE director Robert Kessler told ESPN. “We will have regulations for participation on the team that involve due progress toward graduation, a GPA [requirement], etc.”
“We expect that this will increase our number of applicants to the university,” he said. “Players can come from any place on campus. We do see a correlation between gamers and our EAE students, so we think that it will help us in EAE and university recruiting.”
Earlier this year, the Big Ten Network and Riot Games announced the launch of an official BTN League of Legends season, which just concluded its championship last week. Participating students were given $5,000 in scholarship money provided by Riot Games.
But that was just for a one-off season. Now we’re seeing Utah take the next step.
This time the money is coming straight from the University of Utah, although it will use the EAE’s budget rather than athletic department money.
We’ll see if more schools follow along and make collegiate esports a real thing. It seems like only a matter of time.