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UCI student volunteers test-drive high-end gaming computers prior to the Sept. 23 grand opening of the campus's eSports arena. Steve Zylius / UCI

UCI to launch eSports arena, introduce first-ever varsity League of Legends players

EVENT: The grand opening of UC Irvine’s eSports arena – the first at a public university – will feature top-ranked players on UCI’s new League of Legends team. With 80 custom PCs from iBUYPOWER and a live webcasting studio to broadcast to millions of viewers, the arena will be a Southern California epicenter for competitive and casual gamers. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the opening.

WHEN/WHERE: 3-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, G205 Student Center (bldg. 113, grid E8 on campus map: http://bit.ly/2cqfB8r)

INFORMATION: Media planning to attend can contact Janet Wilson at 949-824-3969 or janethw@uci.edu. Parking is free for media who RSVP in advance. On the day of the event, contact Brian Bell at 949-824-8249, 949-565-5533 or bpbell@uci.edu.

HIGHLIGHTS:     

3 p.m.        Media sneak peek at arena and interviews with players, staff

4-5 p.m.     Celebrity players test equipment, possible informal matches

 5 p.m.        Ribbon-cutting, start of play and – on walkway outside – virtual reality demonstrations, prizes and food

Signage is installed outside UCI's groundbreaking eSports arena prior to its grand opening Sept. 23. Steve Zylius / UCI

Signage is installed outside UCI’s groundbreaking eSports arena prior to its grand opening Sept. 23.
Steve Zylius / UCI

BACKGROUND: The world of competitive video gaming – eSports – is massive and rapidly growing. Live-streamed League of Legends matches draw millions of viewers worldwide – more than the final games of the NBA championship and the World Series, according to a 2014 survey.

UCI is a national leader in video game research, education and recreation. Its new eSports initiative brings academically qualified top gamers to campus to compete and study. UCI’s new team, expected to be the nation’s best, will compete in next year’s University League of Legends season. College Magazine ranked UCI the No. 1 school for gamers in 2015. UCI’s computer game science major is the largest in the country, part of a huge wave of new areas of study and employment, from game design and cybersecurity to anthropology, art and marketing.

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ARENA INFO: The 3,500-square-foot iBUYPOWER arena was built this summer in the former Student Center pool hall for about $250,000. No public funds were used. It will be open to all students and the public for about $4 per hour. iBUYPOWER, a gaming computer company based in the City of Industry, supplied PCs loaded with the most popular video games and is helping defray scholarship and program costs. Los Angeles-based Riot Games is providing a premier League of Legends experience, featuring full champion unlock, 50 percent XP boost, 20 percent IP boost and more than 100 skins. Components, chairs, peripherals and monitors were donated by Logitech, Asus and Vertagear.

TEAM INFO: UCI recruited and selected students based on their gaming skills and their academic records. Team members must meet UCI’s stringent admissions and academic requirements. Players will receive scholarships to help with tuition and fees totaling about $15,000 and can keep any winnings earned from matches.

Five starters have been admitted for 2016-17, including highly decorated veteran Lyubomir Spasov, 23, of Fontana for the Support position; Youngbin Chung, 22, of Seoul, South Korea, for Mid Lane; James Lattman, 21, of Hacienda Heights and Parsa Baghai (also known as Frostalicious), 20, of Mission Viejo for AD Carry; and Loc Tran, 21, of San Jose for Jungle.

The Top Lane spot is open. UCI will hold tryouts the week of Sept. 26 for current students. Returning club team powerhouse Justin Choi, aka Pupper Reformed (formerly Tower of God), is considered a strong contender.

League of Legends is the largest competitive video game globally. The eSports scholarship program identifies the best players to represent UCI, which hopes to expand its eSports initiative to include other games and is open to working with all developers.

VOICES: Rebecca Black, UCI associate professor of informatics: “Video games often get a bad rap, but research increasingly shows the positive impacts that games can have in science, medicine and education. UCI’s eSports initiative can foster team building, effective communication and critical thinking in nontraditional ways. These skills should serve students well for the rest of their lives.”

Incoming UCI eSports student Lyubomir Spasov, aka BloodWater: “UCI’s new eSports program gives talented League of Legends players the opportunity to study what they love and to continue their passion for competitive gaming. When I heard about the scholarship, I was very happy to know that I had a chance to attend one of the best universities in California – or anywhere – and to earn a degree in computer science.”

Mark Deppe, UCI’s acting director of eSports, who envisioned and created the new program and garnered $500,000 in private funding: “It’s fantastic that the arena is opening, but this is just the beginning. On paper, UCI will have the best collegiate team in the world.”

Darren Su, vice president of iBUYPOWER: “UCI has one of the top gaming programs in the nation and deserves top-of-the-line equipment. Our dream is that one day eSports will be a tool for students across the country to achieve professional, academic and personal success. Partnering with UCI is a huge step toward making that dream a reality.”

Ramon Hermann, head of the collegiate program at Riot Games: “We’re honored to work with UCI to create a permanent home for gamers on campus and hope this will inspire similar programs at colleges and universities across North America.”

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