This fall, UTA joined universities across Texas by creating a varsity-level esports program, allowing student gamers to compete in national tournaments within collegiate esports.
Students have to tryout to join one of the three teams available, said Chris Muller, Campus Recreation associate director. Drew Boehm, UTA Esports assistant director, will also look at past game footage to determine the individual’s skill level.
“We’re looking for people that are interested in growing their skills, as well as people that work well with others,” Muller said. “It’s a very team environment, just like traditional athletics.”
In the future, the school wants to recruit incoming freshmen into the program. There will possibly be scholarship opportunities for them and students currently enrolled at UTA, he said.
The three games the program is focused on are Overwatch, Rocket League and League of Legends.
“There may be titles that come up in the future that we may be interested in competing in, but right now, those are three games of focus,” Muller said.
The Overwatch team recently competed in the Battle4Texas Overwatch tournament where 16 universities competed for a share of a $10,000 prize.
The team is currently competing in the Tespa Overwatch Collegiate: Varsity Series. Tespa is a collection of students, competitors and club leaders that operate collegiate Esports leagues, according to the gaming organization’s website.
According to the website, the tournament is only open to universities that have varsity recognized teams. More than 1,350 schools have competed in Tespa tournaments and they have awarded at least $3.3 million in scholarships and prizes.
The Rocket League team competed against the defending national champions, The University of Arizona, at the Collegiate Rocket League tournament.
The League of Legends team is set to start practicing for tournaments soon.
Andrew Cato, English junior and Overwatch team captain, said he sees Esports as a growing industry. He said he sees the varsity program as an opportunity to attract gamers.
“This really is a great step forward for anyone interested or wanting to invest time in something like this,” Cato said.
Boehm said having the backing of the school brings legitimacy to the esports community at UTA.
The program will be well-rounded and students won’t just be playing games, Boehm said. Students will have access to the varsity-level resources such as personal trainers at no cost.
“There are those stereotypes where it’s people are wasting their time playing video games, doing nothing productive,” he said. “We want to turn this into something where it is productive.”
The skills that you learn from esports such as thinking fast under pressure, how to handle stress and thinking critically will stick after college, Boehm said. Outside of competitive play, there are also other aspects of the program that can help students gain experience for future jobs.
From assistant coaches, analysts, social media managers and graphic designers, students can gain real-world experience that they can put on a resume and take to the job market, he said.
Nathan Manzano, information systems sophomore and Overwatch team member, said the varsity program is important because past Esports competitors with the UT Arlington Esports Club have had success, but they could have done better with more support from the university.
“It was just a matter of time, honestly, because a lot of our best teams have already been winning scholarship money, competing against other varsity schools, that kind of thing,” Manzano said. “It’s nice to get recognized.”
Muller said the program will provide students with a structured environment, dedicated practice time and eventually a facility on campus dedicated to practice.
The planned location for the practice space will be in the Maverick Activities Center, and it is expected to be complete for fall 2020, he said. Esports Stadium Arlington is nearby and the program is a partner, but a practice space on campus is more convenient for students.
Cato said having a facility in the works is an incentive to keep playing and improving.
“I play on a laptop, and I don’t really have the best equipment,” he said. “So the fact that they’re building something on campus like that is great for me.”
Although the varsity program is new, esports has been at UTA for about nine years.
The UT Arlington Esports Club has been around since 2010 and is a student organization that will continue to host events for the gaming community, Muller said. The varsity program aims to build on the success that the club has already had.
“The varsity [program] is not taking the place of the student organization,” he said. “It’s really providing an opportunity for students to compete at a little bit higher level.”
Muller said the club and varsity program are operating independently, but they could work together on things like hosting events. Students will also be able to participate in both organizations.
Kimberly Yee, UT Arlington Esports Club president, said the school getting more involved with the Esports community has given the club a level of recognition that everyone involved has been working hard for.
“Them getting involved is like an homage to everyone at the UT Arlington Esports Club that has worked so hard to get recognized by the official university,” Yee said.
There’s excitement for both the future of the varsity program and the club, Muller said. Both groups offer something unique to students, whether they want something more recreational or more competitive.
“Both groups can support each other really well,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for the esports community at UT Arlington.”