When the State University of New York pulled off one of the biggest multi-campus online events this spring, perhaps that should have been a sign of a much bolder initiative on the way. If it could launch a tournament for all of its 64 universities, would it be possible to have esports year-round at all of them, too?
On Monday, those SUNY universities announced another groundbreaking launch of esports – this time the creation of its own competitive video gaming league – with the help of a big push from leaders on its Canton campus and a partnership with provider and sponsor Extreme Networks.
The formation of this potential 64-team juggernaut comes at one of the most unpredictable times for higher education, with the COVID-19 pandemic still causing health and safety concerns and ravaging campus-wide programs along with it. However, one of the few sure-bet hunches is banking on esports to help bring its students together in a way other activities can’t – online.
“As we navigate the coronavirus era, our students need safe avenues for connecting, building camaraderie with their classmates, and simply enjoying life,” said Dr. Jim Malatras, SUNY chancellor. “This new league will harness the growing talent and enthusiasm for esports across SUNY to bring people together in a safe and socially distant way.”
The impetus behind the unveiling of this massive endeavor was simple, said Zvi Szafran, president of SUNY Canton, one of the most respected esports programs in the nation. He thanked Malatras for “expanding student opportunities at a time when so many traditional student affairs options have to be limited.”
The overarching SUNY system echoed that message, saying the league will provide “safe competition, connection, and camaraderie among students during these difficult times.”
What will the league look like?
Though it is expected that most universities within the system will compete, they all still need to sign up. When SUNY hosted its Chancellor’s Challenge, 46 schools and nearly 500 participants took part, so there clearly is interest.
SUNY has opened up the league for varsity and club teams, which can register for free for the fall portion that runs for five weeks. SUNY, Extreme Networks and League Spot, the platform that will provide game play and tournament orchestration, have also put together an eight-week league that will run in the spring.
Among the games that will be played are three mainstays on the collegiate scene – Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Rainbow Six Siege – along with the popular Fortnite and acclaimed titles Smite and Paladins.
Just because it’s a new league with many new teams, don’t expect the competition to be pedestrian.
“We’ve attracted some of the best esports programs in the system, including the University at Buffalo, University at Albany, and Binghamton University in our previous tournaments,” said SUNY Canton esports coordinator Charles Murray. “Our hope is to continue solidifying competitive relationships and offer students more ways and teams to play.”
Registration for the fall is open through Thursday. Interested teams can sign up by emailing [email protected].
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor with University Business and the chair of the Academic Esports Conference and Expo. He can be reached at [email protected]