Oakland University Is First D-1 School in Michigan to Add Varsity Esports Team

Oakland University has become the first NCAA Division I university in the state of Michigan to add varsity esports team to its athletics program. The team will begin competition in the fall of 2020.
OU student and esports participant with OU President Ora Pescovitz
OU President Ora Pescovitz with an OU student and esports participant. // Photo courtesy of Oakland University

Oakland University has become the first NCAA Division I university in the state of Michigan to add a varsity esports team to its athletics program. The team will begin competition in the fall of 2020.

The university also has formed a partnership with Team Renegades, a professional esports team based at GameTime in Auburn Hills.

Esports, short for “electronic sports,” is defined as competitive multiplayer video gaming. While new, and developing at the collegiate level, esports has grown exponentially among amateur and professional gamers around the world.

“Oakland University strives to be entrepreneurial and open to new approaches to teaching, the student experience and learning, including novel areas of exploration,” says Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, president of Oakland University. “The popularity, learning potential and student engagement possibilities of esports places Oakland in the forefront of translating what can only be described as a phenomenon into a relevant educational context, including strengthening the relationship among emerging media and academic disciplines.”

Steve Waterfield, director of athletics at OU, adds, “We are very fortunate to have the support and mentorship of Team Renegades. Based at GameTime, the partnership with a professional esports team will provide support and expertise as the university launches its esports initiatives. Plus, the fact that GameTime is so close to our university is an added benefit.

“I expect the varsity team to collaborate with campus partners, and believe that esports has potential to impact student recruitment to the entire university,” Waterfield continues. “Esports requires the same teamwork and skill found in other sports and provides participants with opportunities to develop leadership skills.”

Like traditional sports, esports is a way for students to build school spirit and connect with fellow students, say university officials.

Oakland’s D-I varsity esports teams initially will compete in three games: League of Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros., with the initial varsity team likely being comprised of up to 12 athletes, open to male and female gamers.

Jonas Jerebko, former Detroit Pistons basketball player and owner of Team Renegades, says he hopes OU’s launch into esports will help spread the excitement and camaraderie of gaming throughout the region.

“Esports is growing at such an impressive pace and I’m thrilled to see Oakland become a part of this innovative and cutting-edge field,” says Jerebko. “Many people, including myself, already know Oakland for its competitiveness with its current sports. This is a prime opportunity to push the boundaries and bring that energy and enthusiasm to new audiences with a new sport.”

The university has yet to hire a coach and has plans to build an on-campus gaming location.

Market analytics firm Newzoo estimated that esports had more than 380 million viewers in 2018. It predicts that global viewership will top 500 million in 2020 with one significant factor being the development of collegiate gaming. Through the use of online video platforms like Twitch, Shaker, and YouTube, gaming, tournaments, and competitions will be easy to follow via livestreaming.

To date, Oakland University has had active club esports teams through the Office of Student Involvement. These organizations have held several competitions in games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. in the Oakland Center.

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