The University of Utah made a big splash in esports when it announced that it will be sponsoring a varsity esports team.
There are 20 collegiate esports programs like Utah’s proposed team, according Michael Sherman, college esports lead for publisher Riot Games. But Utah will be the first school from the “Power Five” conferences to start such a program. “The U continues to showcase why it’s among the nation’s most innovative and competitive as the first Power Five school to build its varsity League of Legends team,” Sherman said.
The trend of varsity esports teams at the collegiate level was started when Robert Morris University began offering scholarships for esports athletes in 2014. Other schools quickly followed suit, and today, there are multiple collegiate esports competitions featuring a variety of titles.
Utah’s varsity team is hoping to tap into that growth. “Esports has had a dramatic rise in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years—especially on college campuses,” said A.J. Dimick, director of operations for Utah’s new esports program. “We think college esports is a great opportunity and we want our students to be part of it.”
We sat down with Dimick to discuss Utah’s foray into esports and his hopes for the team.
How did the University come to the decision to create a varsity team?
A.J. Dimick: I think there are two components that made it possible. The Entertainment Arts & Engineering program here at the U has brought a lot of attention to gaming, game studies, and development here at the University of Utah. Secondly, The Crimson Gaming Club has grown a large and robust gaming community here on campus. Those components have made this a very friendly campus to gamers and gaming. As a school, we want to offer our students the opportunity to take things they are passionate about enable them to represent the University of Utah.
Can you talk about the synergy with the Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) program?
EAE is sponsoring the team and is very supportive. EAE wants to continue to develop a brand for the University of Utah that this is where you should go to school if you want to study, develop, or compete in games. That being said, [the] students that participate on these teams are diverse. There are EAE students involved on club teams but all are welcome. This is about the University of Utah.
The EAE—ranked first in the nation for video game development by The Princeton Review in three out of the last five years—has been very successful. So have your club teams. What made that possible at Utah?
I think our competitive teams have been successful due to the hard work of our club leadership. [Club founder] Angie Klingsieck and her club officers have made Crimson Gaming into one of the best college gaming clubs in the country. It’s impossible to exaggerate how much they’ve done to elevate gaming on this campus and put together a great organization.
What are your goals for the new varsity team?
Our short term goal is to set up the proper infrastructure to make esports self sustaining but also a good experience for our students. We want to win but its about more than winning. We want to make sure our players are successful in competition and in the classroom. We want to provide facilities and equipment for them. We want them to feel supported for being willing to represent the U. That’s what we will work toward.
Where do you see collegiate esports going in the future?
I think a part of our motivation is to help encourage other schools to jump in the scene. We want to help elevate collegiate esports. We hope we’ve made it easier for other schools to see themselves doing this. I don’t know ultimate what direction college esports will go in whether its more things like CSL [Collegiate Star League] or what the Big10 did but those are conversations we look forward to being a part of as collegiate esports becomes more prominent.
We hope our varsity esports effort contributes to more esports for casual players and expert players. We’ll work hard to provide a hub for players no matter what games they are interested in and no matter what their background is.