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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Kent State University is looking to join MAC rivals Akron and Miami in launching a varsity esports program.
The specifics of the program haven’t been announced yet, but university officials say they’re close to making their plans known.
“The interest level in this is pretty high,” Steven Toepfer, a faculty member who oversees a group of student gamers at Kent’s Salem campus, said. “We’re behind this significantly.“
Varsity esports programs have sprouted up at more than 50 colleges across the country in recent years. Teams of student gamers compete with other colleges and at tournaments in popular games such as League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone. Many of the schools like Akron and Ashland offer scholarships to students to play video games.
Kent will too, although the number and amounts are still being discussed. The Salem campus is already recruiting players for scholarships in Hearthstone and Overwatch.
“We’re going to have six players in the Salem campus coming into the university in the fall,” Toepfer said. “Most of the regional campuses are going to field at least one team as well. So, that’s seven locations (in addition to the main campus). We’re talking about a sizable program.“
In addition to the varsity-level program, the school is planning to field club teams as well.
There are currently more than two dozen student organizations at Kent involved in competitive video gaming. The university hopes to lure them and prospective students to a school-wide tournament on April 6-7. The goal: to gauge interest, recruit players and educate the rest of the university about esports.
“We’re going to see how competitive we can be in a couple of different games. We’re also going to find out what games we want to dive into in year one,” Tim Pagliari, project manager of KSU’s esports initiative, said.
As far as possible future matchups against their arch nemesis Akron Zips, university officials say that’s part of the goal.
“The MAC doesn’t have a current stance on esports, although they’re getting there,” Pagliari said. “We certainly hope to have both friendly competitions and to see them in regional and national tournaments.“
While the scope and timeline for an esports program is still being finalized, organizers say the process of selling the merits of gaming to the university as a whole is ongoing.
“We show them some of the numbers in terms of what the industry is doing ($1.5 billion in revenue globally last year) and how much these [pros] are making and it really drives home the point,” Toepfer said. “But we also try to sell this as a community building endeavor.
“We really think [an esports program] is going to help our students feel attached to the university in a similar way that athletics help athletes feel like their part of the university. … These kids are so excited to be representing the university, so it has a lot to do with attachment to place and feeling proud of Kent State.“
For more information, go to kent.edu/esports.
Source: European Gaming Media and Events