AKRON  In October, the University of Akron made its plans to bring back baseball and add women’s lacrosse official. In December, the university announced the addition of another new sports program - or esports, to be specific.

As the fall semester came to a close, the university announced that it would become the first public university in northern Ohio to create a varsity esports program, slotting UA among a small but growing number of institutions nationwide adding esports programs.

At Akron, the new program will be housed in a state-of-the-art esports arena that will be furnished with customized gaming computers and competitors will have scholarships available to them, just as athletes playing traditional sports.

The program will be helmed by Michael Fay Jr., who has been selected for the position of esports director and head coach, pending final approval by the university’s board of trustees. UA president Matthew Wilson, who was also part of the push to bring back baseball at Akron, believes adding esports will be a positive boost for the campus.

"The University of Akron and its students will benefit significantly from the creation of an esports program," Wilson said. "Embracing esports allows the University to continue attracting top students while providing an innovative pathway for students to flourish academically, socially and professionally."

Fay, whose experience in the esports market includes being a production director for esports competitions for Softlocke, which specializes in producing content and entertainment for the industry, has also provided commentary for esports tournaments and created competitive video gaming content for online platforms like YouTube. He received his master’s degree in emergent media from Champlain College and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Saint Michael’s College.

According to the university, the varsity esports program will include 30 to 35 students and will be housed in the Williams Honors College. An associated club esports program will involve several hundred students.

Wilson has visited local high schools and spoken to students, principals and others about esports coming to UA. There has been great interest in the program, especially from teenagers and gamers already familiar with the sport. According to the university, interest in the program has been strong.

Once the UA program is up and running, the school’s varsity esports teams will train and compete with other colleges in some of the nation’s most popular strategy and battle video games like League of Legends (a multi-player online battle arena), Rocket League (a vehicular action sports game), Hearthstone (an online trading card game) and many others.

Like traditional sports, the UA esports team will have tryouts, uniforms and regular practice schedules.

"Students involved in the esports program will also receive academic oversight – similar to students in traditional UA athletic programs – to enhance the success of their overall collegiate experience," said Sarah M.R. Cravens, the university’s vice provost for strategic initiatives. "Participation in this program will strengthen students’ abilities to collaborate and take on leadership roles. In a multitude of fields and programs, esports will also be an outstanding resource for experiential learning opportunities and the development of job skills."

Other students and areas of campus have also been involved in the process of creating the esports program. Engineering and computer science students have volunteered to build the machines for the esports arena on campus, while communications students will have the opportunity to broadcast games and provide commentary, while also serving as videography and audio experts.

Additionally, those with graphic design specialization will be able to create logos and uniforms, while various health professions majors could work with the teams as personal trainers, sports psychologists and nutritionists.

On a larger scale, esports is organized team-based, multiplayer online video gaming that is growing in popularity with professional and amateur participants. On a global scale, top professional esports teams have earned up to $10 million annually through prize money and sponsorships. One recent championship tournament attracted nearly as many viewers as the Super Bowl through viewing online, and at movie theaters and other venues.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB