By Hilary Russ
NEWYORK (Reuters) – ESPN will hold its first ever college championship for competitive video gaming later this year, the TV sports network said on Tuesday, a high-profile esports event aimed at younger fans who spend more time with game controllers than baseball bats or hockey sticks.
ESPN Events, a unit of Walt Disney Co’s cable sports network that also produces a lineup of other sports events such as the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, will produce the Collegiate Esports Championship (CEC).
The showdown will be held in Houston at Comicpalooza at the George R. Brown Convention Center in May. Players will compete in five games: Overwatch, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm and Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition.
Street Fighter is made by Japan’s Capcom Co Ltd; the other featured games were developed by Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard Inc.
As professional esports tournaments have expanded in the last couple of years, so too have college-level games, with schools developing their own competitive teams as they would for traditional sports.
Schools like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas now offer esports labs and course work, and the University of California at Irvine even has its own esports arena and summer camp.
“As universities continue to grow their esports programs at the varsity, non-varsity and club levels, we’re proud to be providing a platform for national exposure and recognition of some of the most talented players in the collegiate space,” said John Lasker, vice president of ESPN’s Digital Media Programming, in a statement.
The CEC will also become Overwatch’s only collegiate championship. Prizes will be in the form of college scholarships, ESPN said.
Players will come from the hundreds of North American schools currently competing in qualifying matches hosted by Collegiate Starleague and Tespa.
Portions of the qualifying rounds, as well as the championship, will be streamed globally, with ESPN to announce later which platforms it will use.
The Overwatch matches in particular will also shown on the livestreaming video platform Twitch, owned by Amazon.com Inc.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by David Gregorio)