The University of Utah announced last week that it had become the first school in a Power Five athletic conference to field its own varsity esports team.
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Adding League of Legends and several other as yet unconfirmed games to the varsity list, alongside football, baseball, basketball, track and so on, Utah said that it hopes to prod other schools into following suit, creating a flourishing college esports scene.
Utah may be the first Power Five conference school with a varsity esports program, but other U.S. colleges and universities have long since jumped into this particular nerdy pool. According to Michael Sherman, college esports lead for League of Legends publisher Riot Games, there are no fewer than 20 such programs around the country, along with 750 League of Legends student clubs.
Utah is a particularly good fit for a varsity esports program – the university’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program is consistently rated among the best in the nation, according to the Princeton Review, and the EAE will actually sponsor the school’s esports teams.
The school is currently holding sign-ups for interested students, and A.J. Dimick, the program’s new director of operations, said that esports represents an opportunity.
“Esports has had a dramatic rise in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years – especially on college campuses,” he said in a statement.
League of Legends is what’s commonly referred to as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA. In it, two teams of four players compete against each other – fighting both the environment and each other, controlling the map and, eventually, invading the other team’s base area to win the game.
It’s the most popular competitive esport by a considerable margin, drawing more viewers last year than the NBA Finals, according to a report from Kotaku. It’s got competition from games like frenetic team-shooter Overwatch and fellow MOBAs like DOTA 2 and Heroes of the Storm, but League of Legends remains the biggest deal in its industry.