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 From right, Steve Waterfield, Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, Team Renegades co-owner Chris Roumayeh, and director of Oakland University’s Recreation and Well-Being Department Greg Jordan pose for photos Dec. 6 at GameTime in Auburn Hills after announcing the implementation of a Division 1 varsity esports program at OU.

From right, Steve Waterfield, Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, Team Renegades co-owner Chris Roumayeh, and director of Oakland University’s Recreation and Well-Being Department Greg Jordan pose for photos Dec. 6 at GameTime in Auburn Hills after announcing the implementation of a Division 1 varsity esports program at OU.

Photo by Jacob Herbert


Oakland University announces state’s first Division 1 varsity esports program

By: Jacob Herbert | C&G Newspapers | Published January 2, 2020

AUBURN HILLS — The rise of esports in recent years has been well documented. Video games such as “Fortnite,” “League of Legends” and “Overwatch,” along with streaming platforms like Twitch, Mixer and YouTube, have helped make esports one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

Local high schools have even begun to pick up on the trend, as Birmingham Seaholm, Birmingham Groves, Ferndale High, Lake Orion High, the University of Detroit Jesuit and Walled Lake Western have all implemented some form of an esports program.

On Dec. 6, Oakland University announced that it will join the rapidly rising trend by creating the first Division 1 varsity esports program in Michigan.

The university plans to begin competition during the fall 2020 semester. Oakland will join the National Association of Collegiate Esports and compete online in three games — “League of Legends,” “Super Smash Brothers” and “Rocket League.”

“Universities must be entrepreneurial and open to new approaches to teaching and learning,” OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said. “We know that the popularity, the learning potential and the student engagement possibilities of esports places Oakland in the forefront of translating what can only be described as an unbelievable phenomenon into a relevant educational context.”

Like many other universities in Michigan, Oakland has an active esports team at the club level and plans to give those players, and any other full-time students, opportunities at the varsity level. The varsity program will consist of a 12-player team, open to both men and women, and a part-time coach. Students can earn up to $2,000 in scholarships on top of any other academic grants they may receive.

As it navigates the fairly uncharted waters into becoming the state’s first D-1 esports program, the university will do so with the help of Team Renegades, a professional esports team headquartered in Detroit and owned by former Detroit Piston Jonas Jerebko.

Team Renegades will act as mentors for Oakland’s program.

“It’s been critical,” OU Athletic Director Steve Waterfield said about the university’s relationship with Team Renegades. “What you’ll learn is esports, like with a lot of sports, there’s a lot of expertise involved. As you do it the right way and gain credibility, you need to have that expertise. Their willingness to partner with us and provide a venue for our teams is critical. We wouldn’t be here without their willingness to provide feedback to help get us to where we wanted to go.”

Oakland University will also link up with GameTime on top of its partnership with the Renegades. GameTime, a gaming center in Auburn Hills, will serve as the initial venue for the university’s varsity esports team.

The facility, which also houses Team Renegades, includes gaming computers, competition viewing space and space to livestream competitions.

University administrators also stressed that the decision to create this gaming program was done in hopes of increasing student engagement.

“One of the huge opportunities that we think that this brings to us is in the realm of potentially attracting students to Oakland that might not necessarily even think about coming to us,” Pescovitz said. “For us, the single biggest win we would get from this is students who would find it interesting to come to Oakland because we offer a program that is exciting to them.”    

Waterfield said that when he came to Oakland University, he did so with the intention of winning at every level, in every sport the university has. He plans to not only work toward his goal of making OU one of the best varsity esports programs in the country, but to use the program as a tool for building student relationships.

“I’m a firm believer that college athletics remains one of the very best vehicles to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together in one area to pursue a common goal,” Waterfield said. “I can’t wait to welcome our varsity esports athletes to this mix and have them join us.”