Story and gallery by HOLLIS LEJA
Esports and video games in general are starting to become a bigger part of our culture. In a 2018 report by the Entertainment Software Association, 60 percent of Americans play video games daily, and in 2017 Americans spent over $29 billion on video games. The report also said “56% of the most frequent gamers play multiplayer games.”
The University of Utah is one of the first universities in the nation to have a college esports team. This is something to be excited about because it is likely you may be a video game fan too. Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) is the name of the department leading this change and it has created the first varsity esports team in the U’s conference.
The university’s EAE program is one of the top programs in the world for video game development. It is rated no. 3 in the nation for its undergraduate and graduate programs and has published over 100 student-made video games. The U’s esports team was the first varsity esports team in the U.S. and currently offers this unique experience across four different game titles: “Rocket League,” “Hearthstone,” “Overwatch,” and “League of Legends.”
“League of Legends” is one of the most watched third-person Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games in the world. Two teams of five players battle champions with various roles and abilities to be the first to destroy the other team’s nexus — a structure that is well-defended in the middle of each team’s base.
“League of Legends” was the first game to become part of this program back in 2017 and it boasts one of the largest followings in the esports industry. According to Riot Games, the creator of “League of Legends,” over 80 million people tuned in to watch the World Championship in 2017 and Riot expects that number to only continue growing. The 2018 World Championship concluded at the end of October and was hosted by South Korea. North America, represented by the U.S. team Cloud 9, took fourth. This is the first time an American team has placed in the top-4 since 2012 during the first Worlds Championship.
Riot sees the potential in esports just like the University of Utah does. Riot said it has over 500 university League of Legends Clubs on campuses across the U.S. For the 2019 college season Riot will be offering scholarships to both players and staff of the teams that compete. The 2019 collegiate season will start Jan. 15, just in time for spring semester.
In spring 2018, the University of Utah League of Legends Team was in the top spot for the collegiate tournaments played. AJ Dimmic, the esports director at the U, said the team was able to get over 300,000 views on Twitch last season and created over 350 hours of content. Dimmic is working hard to help the team and program continue to grow while creating a place where fans of gaming can come watch and support some of the university’s best players.
Kenny Green works as game studio relations for the University’s EAE program and volunteers his time as the head coach for the League of Legends Team on campus. He is also a student pursuing his master’s degree in game production. He’s been playing “League of Legends” since it came out on beta for PC in 2009.
Green said he tries to instill a “culture of being a family” with his players. The team works on building trust with one another and practices up to 20 hours a week, helping each other improve at the game as they prepare for the 2019 season.
The U currently has 11 students on scholarship for the League of Legends team, each pursuing different degrees varying from organic chemistry to pre-med. Green said his players are just like any other student-athlete on campus and are held to the same standards. Students in the program must be enrolled as full-time students, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and progress through 20 percent of their degree with each season.
Like most of the players and coaches in the program at the U, Green is very passionate about his role with the team and video games in general. He said some of the biggest challenges they face right now are space and budget. The program is on campus in building 72 located at 332 S. 1400 East, Suite 240, formerly used by the College of Law. Green said he is working on making a bigger area for teams to practice and so people can come watch the team play local games in the old mock courtroom in building 73 located at the same address.
The U and EAE are invested in esports on campus and in improving the program. The student-athletes and staff have worked hard to represent the best the U has to offer. Dimmic, Green and the team said the best way students can support the team and program is to come watch the games on campus and subscribe to the university esports Twitch channel. With student support the U can continue to be a leader in innovation and invest in programs like the ones in EAE.