(Argo Athletics Media Release)
GREAT FALLS – In 2014, Robert Morris University started the first varsity collegiate eSports program in the country. Since then, over 45 other schools have followed suit. The University of Providence will join their ranks with the addition of a scholarship eSports program starting in 2018-19. The school currently has an eSports club but will expand the roster with scholarship members and has plans for the construction of a permanent gaming room.
The eSports program will be the fourth new team added to Argo Athletics since the arrival of University President Dr. Anthony Aretz and Vice President for Athletics Dave Gantt. In an effort to help increase the school’s enrollment numbers, the University of Providence has already added women’s wrestling, men’s hockey, and women’s hockey over the past year.
“Not only will eSports give us another 20 or more students on campus, but it will put us on the cutting edge of a potential giant in the future of collegiate athletics,” Gantt says. “While the sport is a bit outside of the comfort level of most people in the athletic industry, including myself, its growth and appeal are undeniable. Instead of ignoring it, or passing it off as a fad, we want to embrace it and make it part of who we are.”
Much like the addition of women’s wrestling, the forming of a varsity eSports program puts UP on the cutting edge of one of the fastest growing sports not only in collegiate athletics but throughout the world. The eSports industry has grown into one of the most watched and most lucrative competitive entertainment products, with annual global viewership eclipsing 200 million people and prize money for the top professional tournaments reaching as high as $10 million.
That professional success and popularity are quickly spreading to college athletics. Popular eSports games such as League of Legends already have structured playoffs and championships specifically for collegiate teams, and in 2016 a group of schools with varsity programs formed the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) to develop a structure and provide the tools needed to advance collegiate eSports.
To accommodate the team, the school has plans to convert the current mailroom/bookstore, which will be moving into the new University Center that breaks ground this spring, into a permanent gaming room. The room will initially house 15 new gaming PCs, with an opportunity to expand both the number of gaming stations and the room itself in the future.
This significant commitment is something that current eSports club director, and future eSports Head Coach, Aaron Stucker says will separate the UP program from many other collegiate teams.
“Esports is a new but rapidly growing concept on college campuses nationwide and a lot of schools are having difficulties being successful due to a of lack of administrative support,” Stucker says. “Having Dr. Aretz, Dave Gantt, and the rest of the leadership team advocate and champion the program has and will go a long way in helping us reach our goals.”
The UP program will be joining the NACE for the 2018-19 season and will start with the most popular eSports game, League of Legends, which is played by 95 percent of varsity collegiate programs. Other popular eSports games such as Overwatch and Hearthstone are also strong potential options for the inaugural season. More games could be added in the future as well.
Along with the handful of current Argo eSports club members, the program will be looking to add at least 10-15 new scholarship players for the 2018-19 school year. The program will then look to add five new scholarship players in each of the following two years. Recruitment for the team starts immediately and is open to male or female gamers.