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Universities react to gaming growth with eSports programmes

US university sports programmes are the envy of the world, with stadiums that compare to those of the Premier League, but with more and more people starting to game competitively it was only a matter of time before these institutions started their own eSports programmes to stay ahead of the curve.

The professional competitive video gaming industry, known as “eSports” or “e-sports”, has seen massive growth in recent years, with global viewership reaching a staggering 214 million in 2016. The market is expected to be worth as much as $1.5bn by 2020, and with eSports betting firms already monetising the sector, eSports has already reached the tipping point of becoming a mainstream part of global youth culture.

Therefore, it is little surprise that US universities have started looking to offer eSports programmes to entice new students to join their institution, with the University of Utah apparently one of the schools leading the way.

In a recent interview with Fox 5 News, A.J. Dimick, the director of operations at the University of Utah’s e-sports programme said:

“These are team sports like Legal Legends 5 versus 5 game. It’s just on a video game, on a computer, on a console.

“And so these players have positions, they study film, they study the other team and it’s just a sport like any other sport just on a video game.”

He continued:

“One of the things we are doing is we are staying relevant with our students and we are offering them the content of things they care about.

“They care about these more, more and more, just like having a football and a basketball program, it creates an identity with these students and they can cheer for a team and it’s something they care about.”

Utah is the first university from the Power 5 athletic conference to offer an eSports programme, and they hope that as the sector continues to grow that universities could compete in a tournament that could rival the NCAA March Madness basketball competitions or college football, both of which generate huge profits for the schools involved.

As with their football, basketball, and athletics scholarships, Utah plans to give 35 students money to train up to 20 hours per week and represent the school in competitions.

There are already 20 universities and colleges across the US offering eSports scholarships, and with the money and viewer numbers involved, it will likely not be long before they become a standard programme for all schools in the country.

Photograph by Jakob Wells

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