Universities respond to growth of gaming with 'e-sports' programs

- The world calls professional competitive video gaming "e-sports."

"These are team sports like Legal Legends 5 versus 5 game. It's just on a video game, on a computer, on a console," said A.J. Dimick, the director of operations at the University of Utah's e-sports program. "And so these players have positions, they study film, they study the other team and it's just a sport like any other sport just on a video game."

In April, the university announced the sponsoring of a varsity e-sports team. It is the first school from the Power 5 athletic conference to offer such program.

"One of the things we are doing is we are staying relevant with our students and we are offering them the content of things they care about," Dimick said. "They care about these more, more and more, just like having a football and a basketball program, it creates an identity with these students and they can cheer for a team and it's something they care about."

In the last couple of years, e-sports has become huge around the world with hundreds of millions tuning in to watch. In 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch, which is the live streaming video platform in online gaming broadcasts.

"This can rival March Madness and it can rival college football and I think the ceiling for this is limitless where this can become the third big sport in college athletics," Dimick said.

Just like colleges offer athletic scholarships, the University of Utah has given 35 of its student athletes money so they can compete and represent the institution.

"E-sports is competitive among other schools and there are over 20 schools now offering scholarships," Dimick said. "So just like football and basketball, we are out there recruiting kids to come play for us and trying to sell them on what our university has to offer."

The students have a practice facility where they will practice 20 hours a week and they have to maintain a certain grade point average in order to stay in the program.

"This is exploding so much that it's creating all sorts of opportunities and all sorts of jobs for our students," Dimick said. "But more broad than that it's kind of a representation of the gaming industry taking off as a whole in that you have to have sportscasters for this, you have to have production values for this, you have to have game developers for this."

Competition for the University of Utah will begin this coming fall. The university will have four teams.

Dimick said that in no time other big universities will jump on board and start offering an e-sports program.

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