TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona is making headlines in the sports world as the lady Wildcats continue their dance into the Final Four, but the university is stepping into other sports arenas, too. This time, the digital sports arena.
Liam Koenneker has always loved video games, playing Halo as a kid and moving on to PC games as an adult. Now, he plays here in his modified closet and has even dabbled in the growing world of esports—competitive gaming. He competed in a few tournaments as a freshman in college, and then began working more behind the scenes.
“I noticed that around the country, there was a lot of programs that were popping up, and they were supporting their students and getting them scholarships,” he said.
He is the president of the esports club at UArizona, called “Esports and Gaming at the University of Arizona.” The club has about 100 tournament players across 14 teams for different video games. Koenneker has now helped the university form the first varsity esports team there, and the first among the state schools.
University of Arizona joins about 175 schools nationwide with similar programs already.
“I think a lot of colleges are catching up to the fact that a lot of their students are gamers,” said Koenneker.
Esports is a muti-billion dollar industry. Players can make millions, especially while they stream. Now, it’s an opportunity for students to begin their career in a new field hard to break into. Jobs range from the player, to the production of events, athlete and team management and more. UA hopes to use the program to help students enter many of the possible career paths. Some students will be paid for their work in the program and earn credit.
“That gives them that real-world experience while they’re still in college,” said Walter Ries, the program’s interim director.
Koenneker believes it will be a new recruiting tool the school can use to bring more students to campus. An arena on campus is being renovated for the team, making space for about 50 computers, production and even spectators. The NCAA declined to oversee esports in 2019, and the new varsity esports team won’t fall under the athletics department, but this pandemic-proof type of sport that can be played from home, just might be added to the rosters soon.
“The sky’s the limit. As it grows, it can take on a life of its own,” said Ries. “It’s just going to be exciting to see what happens with the program.”
“Arizona Esports reflects the university’s commitment to support student interest in areas of opportunity,” University of Arizona President Robert Robbins said in a press release. “Not only are esports part of an established and growing industry, like traditional sports esports provide avenues to build community, develop critical skills and gain valuable experiences these students will draw upon for the rest of their lives. I am excited to see this program get off the ground, and proud of the student leaders who have helped create it.”
The university will hold try outs for some of the spots, and plans to debut its new esports arena on April 21. In a press release, the university said information on player recruitment, event schedules and other details about the program will be finalized when a permanent director is hired.