In the popular 80s comedy Revenge of the Nerds, there was a clear delineation between the “jocks” and the “nerds” where the nerds just didn’t receive any respect. With the newest athletic designations on campus, those lines are getting blurred.
While the NFL’s ratings decline, the popularity of eSports has only increased. Earlier this year the University of Utah became the first Power Five college to offer scholarships for competitive video gaming, and across the nation stadiums are filling up as pro gamers make more and more money.
A new study by Frontier Communications shows that Utah is one of the top five states in the U.S. for interest in electronic sports. It was also the only state where Starcraft II was the game of choice. Coincidentally, Starcraft II is the game that former Jazz player Gordon Hayward played as a professional gamer.
The University of Utah receives their scholarship funds through the Electronic Arts Department budget. Media Spokesperson AJ Dimick says, “We were able to elevate the sport from club to a varsity team. It’s not NCAA regulated, but it certainly is sure to be one day.” Dimick added that he believes that in coming years they will require the Huntsman Center to hold tournaments. Currently up to a few hundred spectators can watch games in person.
Connor Cullins grew up as a competitive skier in slopestyle. “I just love videogames. Competitive skiing, I loved the thrill of it, but I didn’t have enough time, and although I loved skiing I should focus on school, I can manage playing a videogame because it’s from my house or go meet up and play.”
Connor is one of the lucky recipients of the scholarships the University of Utah now offers. He and his team will tour tournaments where they receive a base scholarship of $500 per semester. There are one or two tournaments per season. “You have to make it to the playoffs. From 5th to 12th you can get $1,200-$1,500, in additional scholarship funds. Professional gamers can earn upwards of six figures. Rocket League offers prize pools of up to a few hundred thousand, with sponsors offering prizes like BMWs.
The tournaments for video gamers are getting more attention every year. There is a dedicated professional sports network called MLG (Major League Gaming) with a mission to provide eSports globally through premiere competition and to deliver premium gaming content to viewers anytime, anywhere, through their platform, MLG.tv.
The website was receiving so much attention that TBS aired several large battles last year. The popularity of watching gaming over the airwaves has been hit or miss. However, the online attention and viewership was so strong that MLG.tv was acquired by Activision Blizzard for $46 million.