SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The University of Utah is offering a first of it’s kind scholarship. Students can now apply for a competitive gaming scholarship being offered by the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program at the university.
In offering the scholarship the University of Utah will become the first of the fives richest athletic conferences in collegiate sports to offer such a scholarship.
“I think it’s huge. Esports is getting huge and I think the ‘U’ is smart of taking advantage of that,” said first-year grad student Jaxon Whittaker.
Whittaker says people don’t realize just how large the billion-dollar gaming industry really is. As a grad student he always knew he wanted to be involved with video gaming production. And he knew he wanted to come to the university because of its video game production program, which was ranked at the top for schools offering video game programs by The Princeton Review.
“We’re here every day making games and doing what we love learning hands on with other people who are interested in game development,” said Whittaker.
This scholarship means a big endorsement to a rapidly growing community. Within days of its announcement, Robert Kessler, Director of the EAE program says they’ve had many people interested and looking to apply for the scholarship.
“We’ve had already a couple dozens of students that have applied,” said Kessler.
Many of the students that have applied, Kessler says, are high school students looking to get into the field. Students looking to receive the scholarship must first apply online, and then try-out for one of four teams. The first game the varsity esport team will tackle will be League of Legends — the other three are still being determined. According to a press release from the university, “college esports is in its infancy, but there are scores of teams sponsored by student gaming clubs across the United States.”
Kessler says the varsity team started at the university shows how fast esports are growing. He also adds this shows how innovative and forward thinking the university is in trying to attract more students and bring new talent to the school. He believes the scholarship will generate interest among future students and bring “recruits” to the school just like college sports.
Kessler adds that unlike other sports, esports doesn’t factor in someone’s gender into their teams but instead looks at a persons skills. He says students applying and trying out for the teams will be picked based on their skills and how good they are, not because they are male or female.
There will also be eligibility rules set in place to make it competitive. Students will need to maintain a good GPA. They will also be looking to implementing NCAA-like rules just like college sports have, even if its to a lesser degree than those rules that govern other sports like football and basketball.
At the professional level competitive gaming is huge with a large following. At the collegiate level its still making strides. Kessler says he hopes this will lay a road map for other schools who can look to and create varsity esports on their campuses.
While Kessler and others hope esports can get the attention and funding that all other professional college sports do he says it’s been an ongoing conversation with the university’s athletic department.
“We’re still having those discussions with athletics and they may get involved as a partner in this,” he said.
Kessler says, when you look at what a sport is they have competition, camaraderie, team work, and strategy. They also have a large fan base and spectator aspect. He says these are all attributes that esports already has. Kessler says they’re looking forward to continue to grow the college esport community and hope it will help the university grow.
“We hope that that will actually increase the number of students that want to come here and the quality of students,” he said.
Their hope is to present at least 35 scholarships to students by the beginning of the fall semester. The initial investment in the program will be about $70,000 and will be entirely funded by the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program. They will be looking to attract other donors and sponsors in hopes of presenting more scholarships to students.