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Editorial: UCI steps up its e-sports game, UCLA should follow suit

By Editorial Board

April 7, 2016 12:00 a.m.

The world of e-sports is new, but growing fiercely.

Last week, the University of California, Irvine recognized the industry’s potential when it created one of the biggest e-sports initiatives in the country’s universities, and the first major one at a UC. By fall, UCI will have a state-of-the-art e-sports arena right in the middle of its student center, and an official scholarship program for 10 players.

While UCLA does not need to replicate every aspect of UCI’s program, it should take advantage of existing resources in Ackerman Union to create something comparable. Game On, an underutilized gaming-oriented recreation zone run by the Associated Students UCLA, should be revamped to act as a central facility for a new varsity e-sports team as well as other e-sports clubs.

While many are content to ignore or even ridicule video games as sport, the industry is experiencing rapid growth. With a market worth approximately $750 million – expected to grow to $1.9 billion by 2018 – it’s clear that e-sports is not a passing fad. The e-sports market has an estimated viewership of 134 million people, a vast number of whom are college age.

If UCLA ignores these trends, it might be late to the next big thing in collegiate competition. Thankfully, the model for how UCLA can get started with e-sports is already laid out.

The newly initiated e-sports program at UCI will operate similarly to an athletic program, recruiting 10 students to play on a varsity League of Legends team for half-tuition scholarships, said Mark Deppe, the acting director of UCI eSports. To host the new team and other e-sports clubs on campus, UCI will be transforming Zot Zone, an underutilized recreational center, into a 3,500-square-foot e-sports arena with 80 computers.

There is little-to-no risk in this venture, as sponsorships and other revenue are expected to cover scholarships, construction and other future costs, Deppe said.

At just under 700 square feet, Game On cannot be turned into an arena like the one at UCI. However, it can still be remodeled with a focus on e-sports and outfitted with 15 to 20 PCs, enough for multiple League of Legends teams to practice and compete in. When the space isn’t being used by the school team, it could still serve students as a recreational gaming center or even be booked by other groups.

UCI was able to leverage its reputable name and large campus to attract sponsors like iBuyPower, a gaming PC manufacturer, and Riot Games, the LA-based developer of League of Legends. UCLA’s are certain to do the same. Sponsorships such as these combined with revenue from renting the space would make Game On self-sustainable, a drastic improvement from the lounge’s current state. Roy Champawat, director of the student union, estimates the space serves around 10 to 40 students a day, none of whom are charged because ASUCLA found students were uninterested in renting outdated equipment.

We also already know that the demand for such a space exists. Like UCI, UCLA has numerous e-sports clubs on campus, many of which have a difficult time finding space for events or group practices, said Alex Tao, director of AUGment, an umbrella organization of hundreds of students meant to bring all e-sports clubs at UCLA together. Game On currently cannot be used by e-sports clubs because there is no way to reserve space and there are no longer any PCs.

Creating a varsity e-sports team and revamping Game On would bring recognition to these clubs which already compete for UCLA, while allowing the school to capitalize on their success.

The Irvine campus has charted new territory and made headlines nationwide without any major capital investment. The only real thing stopping ASUCLA from instituting similar changes is a lack of innovation – not resources or demand.

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