Varsity esports coming to UTD

The varsity Esports team is the first sport added to the athletics department since 2004. It will also be the first sponsored coed sport. Photo by Sarah Besserer | Mercury Staff.

UTD Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Bill Petitt announced the addition of esports as the university’s 14th varsity sport. The newest addition to the Comets is the first since the inclusion of volleyball in 2004 nearly 14 years ago and will be the university’s first sponsored coed team.

The initial focus of the sport will be competing in Riot Games’ “League of Legends” and Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch.” The program is expected to launch before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

“(Esports) is the big craze right now,” Petitt said. “We had talked about it over a year ago, and when we brought it up again in late January with some students, you could tell the buzz was there. We thought it was a perfect fit for our campus.”

When deciding on which games to debut with the sport, Pettit and Esports Coordinator Rob Bogardus considered UTD’s existing connections with each game, advice from people in the industry and the current focus of the DFW esports community.

“There’s a current ‘League of Legends’ team that represents UT Dallas informally that’s very good,” Petitt said. “That helped ease the decision to have ‘League of Legends’ when you already have a top-notch team on campus, and none of them are seniors. I think we’re going to jump into it and be pretty good right away.”

The decision to select “Overwatch” as the second focus of the program was influenced by the university’s recent collaboration with The Dallas Fuel, a professional “Overwatch” team. On May 16, UTD hosted a watch party for the team and invited Dallas Fuel CEO Michael Rufail and Dallas Fuel Vice President of Content Justin Rojas to deliver a keynote at its Innovation and Technology Summit. While there is no official partnership between the UTD team and The Dallas Fuel, Petitt said he is open to further collaborations with the team.

The most immediate concern for the athletics department is finding a head coach to take over the program, a decision the department intends to finalize before the end of July. Without a head coach to consult, large elements of putting the esports teams together, such as team kits and sponsorships, have largely been left on hold until later this summer.

To accommodate training, a plan to build a 1000-square-foot “esports arena” has already been proposed. If the current plan is approved, the Student Union’s Gemini and Pegasus rooms will be renovated to create a larger area with 24 PC gaming centers and an office for the head coach.

Though there are currently no plans to add other esports, Petitt and Bogardus are not opposed to eventually adding more games. Early talks about choosing Psyonix’s “Rocket League” and Blizzard’s “Hearthstone” indicate they could be potential candidates in the future. Bogardus said the pursuits of the local esports scene heavily influences whether or not a game gets added to the roster.

“The Texas schools kind of get together and say ‘Hey, we’re looking at adding this game or that game,’ and they start regionally at first,” Bogardus said. “We found this out when we were talking to the other schools that have (esports).”

Future plans for the esports program include hosting streams on the popular live-streaming video platform Twitch and offering students official merchandise such as themed peripherals and clothing.

“The biggest thing is that we think it’s just a great fit for the entire student body,” Petitt said. “I’ve been here 10 years and I don’t think there’s been an activity added that’s had as much of a buzz, not just from the students, but from the staff and especially the people in IT. It will be a great chance for people, that normally don’t, to get involved on campus.”

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