Old Dominion, KU make moves to varsity in esports

NASEF strikes groundbreaking deal with Japan High School Esports Federation.
By: | November 8, 2019
Photo by Sean Do/Unsplash

For the past five years, esports has been the king of clubs on college campuses across America. Despite its huge popularity among students, video gaming at many schools has operated largely underground, with little fanfare and little support.

But real change is happening fast for this very real sport, and it’s happening seemingly with every news cycle.

This week, two major universities – Kansas and Old Dominion – decided esports was big enough to elevate it to varsity-level status. Several other large schools, such as Butler University, have unveiled plans to find space on their campuses to serve growing gaming populations. Others are feverishly hitting the Internet looking to replicate colleges that offer esports majors and curriculums.

For Old Dominion, the “entrepreneurial-minded” Norfolk, VA, school with 24,000-plus students, leveling up esports was a natural; it already has six organizations on campus dedicated to game design and game play. And it features a clear path to students interested in a career in esports via this really cool major: Game Design, Development and Criticism.

Yet, Old Dominion is the first four-year public institution in Virginia to officially adopt varsity esports. It plans to start up in the fall of 2020. To help make the transition complete, ODU is retrofitting its Webb University Center with high-end gaming computers, consoles, and an area for broadcasting and streaming.

“We see the esports and gamification phenomenon happening at all levels of education and professional development,” said Grant Deppen, assistant director of intramural sports. “This program and facility will provide significant opportunities for students to hone their skills for majors such as game design studies, graphic design, sport management, cybersecurity, modeling & simulation, computer engineering and computer science and many of the other academic disciplines that the University offers.”

Both Old Dominion and the University of Kansas are both becoming members of the National Collegiate Esports Association (NACE). The Old Dominion Esports Club already competes in Rocket League, League of Legends, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Kansas, which is accelerating the move to varsity and starting in January 2020, will be competing in League of Legends.

“This is an exciting moment in KU history,” says Michelle Compton Munoz, Associate Director of Marketing, Media, and Programs and the new Kansas coach. “The opportunity to add esports to the programs available at KU and provide the students with official training offers not only much needed support to current students but also expands opportunities for generations to come.”

NASEF partners with Japan High School Esports Federation

The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) announced a collaborative agreement with the Japan High School Esports Federation that they say will foster the exchange of information between the organizations and students through esports.

NASEF, which is partnered with the Samueli and Emerald Foundations, UC-Irvine and the Orange County Department of Education, provides students with “critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life.” It strives to be game-changers in esports and education … and this partnership has boundless potential.

“It’s thrilling to see forward-thinking educators around the world recognize the potential of our learning framework that combines esports and education,” says Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation and founder of NASEF. “It’s clear that our program works for all youth; there are no boundaries – ethnic, geographic, gender – to limit kids’ opportunities to learn and grow through play.”

Some of the features of the program will include:

• Education programs such as exchange study and overseas training
• Esports seminars and symposiums to be held in the U.S. and Japan
• Educators travel overseas for learning and joint research

“We hope that this partnership will provide opportunities for international communication and exchange of academic research through esports and expand the possibilities of esports in Japanese school education,” said Kimito Kubo, Representative Director of the JHSEF.

Across the keyboard …

NETWORKING PLATFORM FOR ESPORTS: Ohio University graduate and new CEO Matt Benson has raised $1.4 million in seed funding to launch a new social media network platform, called eFuse – an app that will help connect esports gamers with like-minded professionals and coaches. The target date for the launch is Dec. 10. According to reports, a portion of the funding comes from the Ohio Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm backed by Ohio University and Ohio State University. The site will be free of charge, except for some premium offerings. More details to come soon!

SMASHING MOVE BY HAWKEYES: The University of Iowa is hosting a one-on-one intramural tournament in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that any student can participate in, regardless of skill level. Esports at Iowa boasts multiple competitive teams in Overwatch, CS:GO, Rocket League and Call of Duty, but this tournament and another will be a test to see how popular esports is on campus.

ISLAND CHARM: Hawaii Pacific University, the first university with a collegiate esports arena in Hawaii, is hosting two tournaments in November, with $33,000 in scholarship money on the line in Overwatch and League of Legends.

PLACE YOUR BETS? New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks are accepting bets on competitive esports tournaments after the state Division of Gaming Enforcement approved wagering on Thursday. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa took in the first bet on the League of Legends championship in Paris. Casesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International already have invested in esports tournaments and facilities.


Interested in esports or interested in doing a speaker presentation at the show or exhibiting? Check out the opportunities at LRP’s Academic Esports Conference.

Chris Burt is LRP’s Editor for Esports and the Chair for the Academic Esports Conference and Expo.  


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