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University of Arizona cuts funding to Esports program

The+University+of+Arizona+Esports+arena+is+located+downstairs+in+room+138+in+the+Student+Union+Memorial+Center.
Jacob Mennuti
The University of Arizona Esports arena is located downstairs in room 138 in the Student Union Memorial Center.

As a result of massive budget cuts made by the University of Arizona to deal with the $177 structural deficit the university is facing, the Arizona Esports program has had to cut its varsity status and look towards being a strictly student-led gaming club. 

At the beginning of the spring semester, the UA cut funding to various clubs, including the campus Esports program.

Ian Escalante, the director of Arizona Esports, revealed the future of the Esports program. 

“The University of Arizona will no longer support an Esports program right through any form of funding,” Escalante said. “We were supposed to be due for a new influx of funds and new support [when] all of this stuff happening with the university came out, and [UA] decided that they would no longer be moving forward with that.”

Escalante explained that the Esports program can no longer continue without the additional funding and has lost its varsity status. Losing the varsity title means that faculty can no longer lead the program, and it has to turn to students.

Similar to other athletic programs, varsity Esports is linked with the NCAA, which can grant Division I, Division II and Division III status to programs. Because of this loss of funding, the program will no longer be recognized as a collegiate sport and will be designated as a club team with no higher administrative power.

“The program itself will not exist because it won’t be recognized as the University of Arizona Esports program. It’ll definitely be ‘Wildcat Gaming’ or something like that. They’ll have different logos that they use. It won’t be the University of Arizona, it’ll be students from the University of Arizona,” Escalante said.

Escalante said this loss has affected the program’s current students.

“This has not been something that’s been easy for anybody. We were very proud of all the work that we did, and we had been pushing for this to continue for a while […], for about two years,” Escalante said. 

Escalante said the UA feels differently about the necessity to continue the program than the students involved, or that the university needs to catch up on the other programs in the current financial situation. However, he felt for the students in this situation. He used this to look towards the future of these passionate students continuing the program in whatever way they can.

“But if it’s going to turn student-led, it has to be student-led. It has to be. Passions. Student ideas. It’s got to be collaborative. And it has to be coming from student passions,” Escalante said. “I’ll support them. Always be here for them. Esports will be fine here, it may not be at the same level of recognition or support, but they’ll still be passionate students who come through here that are really talented and are going to do well.”

The program’s future being student-led also means that Escalante will no longer be the administrative director. However, he recognized that in some ways, this could be positive.

“But there’s a lot of freedom in that right. To deal with a lot of the other administrative things. You can go off and do your own thing,” Escalante said.

While Escalante might no longer be the head of the program, this significant change allows for the program to be fueled by students and their wants and needs, without as many restrictions based on varsity program rules.

“I would say that the best way to [get involved in gaming] would be to become a part of the gaming club. They oversee a lot of different gaming. They have all different types of passion in that space. But it’s probably the best place to be if you want to at least meet like-minded individuals who will pursue the passions that you kind of have, and maybe the club itself takes on some of [those] organizational skills,” Escalante said.

While the program’s future is in contention, Escalante is still optimistic about the student body finding a way to engage with their interests and continue the program in one way or another, even if just through a gaming club.

Although the school-sponsored Esports program that was previously available may no longer exist due to significant funding cuts, there is still hope for passionate gamers on the UA campus.


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