Well this is interesting – the University of California, Irvine is launching a dedicated esports initiative. What that means is they're working with Riot Games to build an arena with a staging area and webcasting studio. The university add that "as many as 10 academic scholarships will be offered to students on the team".
According to vice chancellor for student affairs, Thomas Parham:
"UCI eSports will be built on four pillars: competition, academics, entertainment and community. We hope to attract the best gamers from around the world, and our academic programs in computer gaming science, digital arts, computer science, engineering, anthropology, law, medicine, neuroscience and behavior create a strong foundation for research and inquiry related to gaming."
I'm excited about the parts that might lead to more academic research into esports and competitive gaming. I'm more curious about the idea of academic scholarships for people on an esports team simply because of the time commitment each thing requires. Can you imagine writing a dissertation while trying to stay in peak MOBA shape? I mean, I guess people on other kinds of scholarships run into that kind of problem all the time and manage to deal with it and maybe it'll be a lot different from the scene I'm used to where people practice day in, day out.
The other part I'm thinking about is the League of Legends side of things. Riot has been interested in League of Legends at universities for years now and has a collegiate program to support this. In the US and Canada you can set up and register a League of Legends club. Riot don't actually hold events or competitions for these clubs themselves but they do offer help with prizing and so on. There's also a European project which I spoke to them about a couple of years back, although Europe is more complicated because it involves a lot of different languages and a lot of different university systems. (You can read that interview over on Wired.)
When I asked about why you would set up a collegiate framework the EU program manager, Kristoffer Touborg, said:
"We feel there is a need for people in the university space to have a competitive framework. If you're one of the top 0.02 most talented people in the world then maybe the right competitive framework for you is to participate in the LCS (League Championship Series). If you're maybe a few steps down the ladder in terms of skill and commitment -- many of you want to play meaningful League of Legends tournaments but you still want to study to become a doctor -- then hopefully we can provide that."
I'd also say that ensuring your game stays in a student's life through university is a valuable business decision in terms of player retention, and positioning LoL as tying into academia in the same way traditional sports does is a valuable marketing decision. It's part of getting non-players to view gaming, and your game specifically, as an investment.
Riot's involvement explains the focus on League of Legends in the university press release. There's also a decent chance it would have been League of Legends-focused anyway because of LoL's colossal active player numbers, but I do find myself wondering what's going to happen with other competitive games. The gaming PCs are going to be "loaded with the most popular video game titles" so I'm wondering whether the plan is also to look at having Dota or CS:GO tournaments in the space as well or is this arena a League of Legends-only space? I'll send an email and update this if they reply.