University of North Texas students compete in the first official intramural esports tournament at the launch of UNT's esports program.EXPAND
University of North Texas students compete in the first official intramural esports tournament at the launch of UNT's esports program.
Danny Gallagher

UNT's New Collegiate Esports Program Might Be the Future of Sports

Let the video games begin.

The University of North Texas launched its official esports program last week with an intramural Overwatch tournament in front of a crowd of student spectators in the University Union Lyceum theater. Some competitors are on the college's varsity esports teams, and others hope to be on the teams.

"It's pretty exciting," says freshman Gabriel Castro, a computer science major who played in the intramural tournament. "It feels weird that something like video games are getting so much recognition and that the president of the university is sitting down and watching it."

The program launched with four varsity esports teams that will compete against other collegiate teams in three games — Blizzard Entertainment's popular first-person shooter Overwatch, the card battle game Hearthstone and Riot Games' top-down online battle arena League of Legends. The school is hosting tryout tournaments for all three games and exploring avenues to add teams for additional games, such as Psyonix's car soccer game Rocket League, Valve's Dota 2 and Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Melee.

A UNT team recently made it to the semifinals in Blizzard's lucrative Heroes of the Dorm tournament, in which college teams from around the country play the multiplayer mashup battle game Heroes of the Storm. The UNT Eagles were one of 64 college teams and were knocked out of contention by the Cal State Polytechnic University team out of Pomona, California, in a close bout.

"This will be a new way for students to express and push themselves with their academic goals," says UNT esports coordinator Dylan Wray. "Students will soon be able to say, 'I'm a business major and I'm an Overwatch player for UNT.'"

Freshmen Daniel Stewart, William Simpson and Joseph Fergen won Dallas Fuel jerseys in UNT Esports' first official intramural Overwatch tournament.EXPAND
Freshmen Daniel Stewart, William Simpson and Joseph Fergen won Dallas Fuel jerseys in UNT Esports' first official intramural Overwatch tournament.
Danny Gallagher

Wray, a former collegiate esports player who competed in Valve's Dota 2 as an undergraduate and studied game development at the University of Colorado-Denver, says UNT's esports program is about more than just giving students an excuse to spend more time playing video games. The program is still new, but there are plans to incorporate academic studies such as kinesiology, psychology and communications into the competitive gaming program, which is part of UNT's recreational sports department.

"There are a lot of avenues for academics to get involved," Wray says. "There's a lot of focus on game development but not a lot on what makes a player good and with some of the programs that UNT has, we can really delve deep into that. We're trying to under why some can work at this for years and never get good and some can pick it up at 10."

UNT's eSports program will also expand the journalism program with courses that focus on esports reporting and broadcasting. UNT students studying broadcast journalism and sales and marketing called the opening celebration tournament.

"The discussions are all up in the air in terms of how we can expand into other areas," Wray says. "As we expand, we'll look more into those areas."

The program is still new, and Wray says it's focused on building competitive teams and maintaining the student body's interest in the school's newest sport.

"Right now, it's about passion," he says. "The students who helped get this off the ground are very passionate. They want this to be taken to the next level and are excited about what it can become."

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