By AKBAR AMIN
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) announced late March that it will be launching an eSports program starting this fall. UCI is offering 10 academic scholarships to students who will represent UCI at nationwide and worldwide tournaments.
UCI has not yet announced what competitive games it will be giving scholarships for, but according to UCI News there is speculation that the games will include the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game, League of Legends (LoL) and the Fighting/Platform game, Super Smash Bros 4.
UCI has also teamed up with the gaming company, iBUYPOWER, to build a 3,500 square foot gaming arena on campus which will contain 80 custom high-end gaming PCs.
“It has been a dream for many of us on campus that UCI recognize the importance of eSports and create a space and a program that caters to the large community of gamers at the university,” said Jesse Wang, who is the president of The Association of Gamers at UCI as well as the manager of UCI’s current League of Legends team.
The university’s recognition of eSports has excited not only UCI students, but students at UHS as well. “Personally, I support eSports as a whole seeing that I love playing League of Legends and am looking to develop a career in it,” said Eric Hung (So.). “The scholarship offering and even the Arena being built is more than I could ask for. I’d like to say it opens up career pathing for eSports now that you don’t necessarily need to expend an immense amount of time to train as a professional player.” Hung was ranked in the top 50 players in North America in 2015 for League of Legends and is now part of 0.1% of players worldwide.
On the other hand, some feel that UCI’s eSports program contradicts it being considered an educational institute. Eric Guo (Sr.) said, “I think there’s absolutely no good reason why UCI should launch an eSports initiative … an athlete is someone who’s proficient in sports or other means of physical exertion. Gaming is quite the opposite and there needs to be a term that accurately describes eSports participants.”
“UCI giving scholarships is kind of ridiculous,” Guo said. “It is an educational institute. I’m not saying you can’t play games in college, but is this the kind of direction UCI wants to steer itself towards? I even play games and think that ‘eSports’ are misleading. The fact that these participants are considered ‘athletes’ bothers me.”
Multiple sources have published responses similar to what Guo stated in reaction to UCI’s eSports program. According to the New University, the UCI newspaper, Ryan Toves, a second-year journalism major at UCI, said, “Do we really want to be the gaming school? One day you’ll be sitting at a job interview, and moments later your potential employer looks up from the boastfully exaggerated white sheet in front of them only to inquire, ‘Oh, you went to UCI? That’s the gaming school right?'”
Although many believe that eSports will hurt UCI’s reputation, some say that the new policies will improve negative stereotypes of gamers. “I think as a gamer, we all want to be recognized for our hobbies,” said Kathy Chiang, who graduated from UCI last year with a computer science major. “We still fight quite a lot of negative stigma and stereotypes that ‘gaming is bad/antisocial’ or ‘gamers are bad students,’ and having official programs like this is a huge help in showing the world that eSports is real, gamers can be and are successful, productive members of society, and we take it very seriously.”