UT Dallas Gets in New Game with Launch of Comet Esports Program
Harold Bennett, a physics freshman and member of the “League of Legends” B Team for UT Dallas, practices in the new esports space in the Student Union.
UT Dallas launched a new esports program this semester, making it one of the few universities in Texas to offer esports as part of its athletics department.
The University recently completed construction of a new on-campus practice and competition space, solidifying a “home field” for the program.
Two rooms in the Student Union were converted to a 24-seat arena for esports teams to train and play. The room has four 80-inch-screen TVs for match viewing, a cubicle for the coach, Alienware Gaming PCs and custom-made gaming chairs.
Launching a Program
Bill Petitt, director of athletics, said the evolution of the program began earlier this year during an annual brainstorming session in the athletics department.
“I was surprised to hear more than one person mention esports,” Petitt said. “That’s what really started us down this road.”
Petitt said students were asked what they thought about adding esports to the official roster, and the responses were almost unanimously positive. His team immediately began planning for the fall season.
In August, Greg Adler was hired as esports head coach. He has coached several online amateur teams and founded a major 10-week tournament in Pennsylvania that drew highly skilled players from across the state.
“It’s nice to have esports at a collegiate level because it allows students to not only get the competitive experience, but also the education they want. Within UT Dallas, it’s a perfect situation for esports,” Adler said. “You can tell the students are very passionate about it and really want to get involved.”
Gearing Up for a Winning First Season
Varsity college esports in the United States began in 2014, and there are now around 100 programs under the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) banner. NACE boasts 1,500 student-athletes and disperses $9 million in esports scholarships annually.
Competitive, online gaming is a nearly billion-dollar industry, and Dallas-Fort Worth is quickly becoming a hub as the city of Arlington completes a 100,000-square-foot, 2,000-seat esports stadium, the largest in the country.
Tryouts to fill the UT Dallas team roster recently concluded. The first games UT Dallas students will play competitively are “League of Legends” and “Overwatch” — two popular, multiplayer online games.
UT Dallas has two “League of Legends” teams and two “Overwatch” teams that compete and practice with one another. In addition to the team members, more students are needed to fill out support roles such as analysts, assistant coaches and other positions. Adler has a specific reason for this: creating vital experiences students can’t get elsewhere.
“Right now, the way it works, you are an amateur and go straight to pro. There are no minor leagues, so the collegiate scene is perfect,” he said. “You get to be around other players like you and improve and compete while still getting that great education that UTD offers.”
As athletes, members of the team will be held to the same standard as their Comet sports peers and will have access to the same amenities. They must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA, while also upholding a code of conduct when representing the University.
Adler is scouting the best opportunities for matches and says he is beginning the year with high hopes. On Sept. 22, the Comets competed in their first “Overwatch” tournament, reaching the quarterfinals of the OP Live Dallas collegiate event at the Irving Convention Center.
“We’re looking to win it all in both ‘League of Legends’ and ‘Overwatch,’ ” Adler said. “But beyond that, we want to build a community — something where players and team members not yet at the top of their level can still think, ‘Wow, this is my school’s team. I really want to support it.’”
The support from the student body is also a primary driver for the esports program. Campus watch parties are planned, and practices and competitions will be streamed on Twitch, a popular online service for watching others play games.
“We want all students interested in esports, regardless of level, to support the program and get involved,” Adler said.
This story was reported and written by Chase Carter.
Comet Esports Team Rosters
“League of Legends” A Team
“League of Legends” B Team
“Overwatch” A Team
“Overwatch” B Team
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].