NRG Esports, the San Francisco Shock and the University of California, Berkeley announced the first partnership between a major esports organization and a university on Wednesday.

With this partnership, NRG, a major esports organization, and the SF Shock, NRG’s Overwatch team, will become the premier sponsor of Cal Esports. They will work with the school to launch a brand new campus esports community center in fall 2018.

Cal Esports has more than 90 collegiate student-athletes on 10 competitive teams who represent the school both nationally and internationally.

“Over the past few years, esports has gained a lot of momentum, and we’re incredibly proud of our student-athletes,” Stephen Sutton, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs at UC Berkeley said. “Student interest has been a major driving force behind our program . . . We’ve quickly learned that esports isn’t just about gaming — it’s a growing industry and lifestyle.”

The SF Shock is entering the second half of its first season. NRG is currently the second place team in “North American Counter Strike: Global Offensive” and is a two-time world champion in the popular game “Smite.” NRG also fields rosters in five other esports including “Hearthstone” and “Fortnite.”

The organization was founded in 2015 by Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov. Some of NRG’s more well-known investors are Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.

“By investing in this esports program, we’re investing in the future: technology, reinvented community, new learning models and, of course, the students,” Andy Miller said, owner and CEO of NRG and the San Francisco Shock. “We look forward to the many things we can do together not just in our Northern California market, but hopefully throughout the esports community as well.” 

This new partnership will also support educational and professional development programs for esports student-athletes.

The program will include a community innovation lab, exploring tie-ins to for-credit courses, connections to a professional, competitive team for students interested in becoming professional players, industry internships and job fairs.

“We want to establish a strong tie between college and pro esports,” Miller said. “This is a great first step with a big university in our market of Northern California. Students are gamers. There is now a path to pro on the competitive side, and we want to help establish a path to careers in esports as well.”

The new program will also host a Women in Gaming initiative to create a gateway for female gamers to play more games, more confidently. Cherie Lin, a UC Berkeley student and gaming community leader initiative. 

“Thanks to the new center and our partnerships,” Lin said, “We can build on that dedication to promote gender equality in the gaming community, in addition to creating new opportunities for the entire student body.” 

Female gamers at SJSU support this movementas well.

“I think it would be a great idea to have some sort of women in gaming initiative like UC Berkeley does,” Julie Wang, a business administration junior and Spartan Starleague photographer, said. “Ultimately, being a girl in a scene with a lot of guys isn’t much different than being involved in

anything else.”

The new Cal Esports community center will provide students a place to gather, watch matches and play games. Beyond being a traditional esports arena, it will act as a campus hub for collegiate esports and gaming-related activities with events such as mixers, TED-style talks geared toward gamers, student lab hours and meetings with leaders in the esports industry.

Cal Esports’ partnership with NRG Esports and the SF Shock may serve as the catalyst for more and more universities to support on-campus esports.

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