UC Irvine to Create eSports Arena, Scholarships

(Photo: UC Irvine)

(Photo: UC Irvine)

The University of California-Irvine has announced plans to introduce a space on campus solely for gamers to compete in the professional world of eSports.

UCI said that it plans to unveil a new 3,500 square-foot arena in its student center.  The space will offer students access to 80 brand new gaming computers loaded with video games, a “League of Legends” competition stage, and a studio for broadcasting live competitions.

The announcement highlighted that the space would be perfect for battles in “League of Legends.”  The eSports game requires teams of five to battle in an attempt to be the first to destroy the opposing team’s base.  The game, one of the most popular in the world, is free to play and hard to master.

“UCI eSports will be built on four pillars: competition, academics, entertainment and community,” said Thomas Parham, UCI vice chancellor for student affairs. “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.”

In order to include the necessary software and high-end machines that allow students to play these games, UCI partnered with Los Angeles-based Riot Games, who developed “League of Legends,” and custom gaming computer maker iBuyPower.  The school will be the first public research university in the nation to offer students an dedicated place to compete in eSports.

In addition, the school said as many as 10 half-tuition academic scholarships worth close to $5,500 would be awarded to students who participate on eSports teams for the school, according to UCI student programming assistant director Mark Deppe.

UC Irvine isn’t the first school to offer gaming scholarships.  Robert Morris University in Chicago announced scholarships in 2014 for League of Legends players.  However, Irvine is the first public research university to do so in the hopes of attracting students into its science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.

All students who attend the university will be able to use the gaming space, which provides a space to relax with leisure activities on campus in between academic and research commitments.  This idea fits in with a recent survey that found 72% of the school’s student body consider themselves to be gamers, and 89% were found to support the idea of creating an eSports team on campus.

Construction is expected to begin in July, with a price tag of about $250,000.  Deppe said that additional upgrades may be considered if more sponsors become involved, reports Olivia Niland for Mashable.

UCI was ranked by College Magazine as the best school for gamers in 2015 as a result of its over 300 student gaming clubs on campus, reports Paul Szoldra for Tech Insider.

Irvine, California is also home to Blizzard Entertainment.  The company is responsible for the release of “Heroes of the Storm,” another eSports game with its own professional league that is broadcast on ESPN.