University of Utah Joins Ranks of College E-Sports

All the time your kids spent playing your classic “Ms. Pac-Man” cocktail arcade game might pay off. College bills aren’t getting any lower, but the gaming scholarship opportunities just keep expanding. The University of Utah is the latest school to offer a scholarship to students who are demonstrably good at e-sports, the next frontier of collegiate gaming.

Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering Department

The scholarships for skilled gamers are going to be funded by the university’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering department. It’s the same department that is home to the top-ranked video game design program in the country.

University of Utah was already a popular college choice for aspiring professional game designers, who already have an e-sports team established: Crimson Gaming. But now, those gamers will have the opportunity to play not only for club pride, but school pride as well.

The first tournament the team will participate in is Riot Games’ “League of Legends” College Championship, but the school plans on announcing involvement in multiple additional tournaments as well.

Scholarship Qualification

The department will begin hosting tryouts over the summer and official e-sports game play will start with the beginning of the 2017 school year. While only partial scholarships will be awarded at first, as the program is developed and prize money invested, the school hopes to pay for 35 full scholarships for its future complete team.

Students can apply online to be considered for a spot. While the official standards aren’t fully decided, it’s expected that team members will have to abide by traditional NCAA student-athlete rules. Grades will be considered along with skill level.

It’s a Big Step

Though plenty of smaller schools have developed e-sports scholarship programs, such as University of California Irvine and Columbia College, University of Utah is the first school from one of the “Power Five” athletic conferences (Pac-12, Big 10, Big East, SEC, ACC) to do so. It signals a shift in the perception of e-sports.

Even though University of Utah’s athletics department is not financing any of the e-sports team scholarships or development efforts, that may change if other “Power Five” schools begin adding teams and making the playing field more competitive. Will you watch the “March Madness” of “League of Legends” someday soon?