In an effort to supplement the pandemic-affected traditional sports season, Pac-12 universities united in creating an exhibition league for student esports players to fulfill the age old thrill of competing against conference teams.
According to a statement released by the Pac-U earlier today, “The Pac-U, unaffiliated with the official Conference of Champions™, is made up of students, staff and faculty coordinating to fill the gap left by the shortened or postponed pandemic-affected “traditional” Fall 2020 sports seasons.”
The Pac-U will host a series of independent, standalone exhibition matches in the games League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League, involving all the schools in the Pac-12 conference aside from UCLA, who declined to comment about their non-participation. The Pac-U directors are still “Discussing adding limited exhibition matches later in the Fall for Nintendo Entertainment’s Super Smash Bros. and Blizzard’s Hearthstone,” according to a statement released by the Pac-U earlier today.
The statement also mentioned that there will be no prizes or sponsors, though it is "Hoping that will change over time “As they discuss formalizing the organization with individual game publishers over the coming months.”
The Pac-U season will begin next week with “Overwatch Thursdays”, “Rocket League Fridays” and “League of Legends Saturdays”, and will end with a series of “Spotlight Matches” a week before Thanksgiving.
USC will participate in their first Overwatch match against the University of Colorado, Boulder on Oct 15, and against the University of Washington in Rocket League on Oct 16.
Gabriel Lacayo, the captain of USC’s Rocket League team emphasized the collaborative nature of the Pac-U.
“The goal isn’t to just have one school’s face be the main organizer, instead it’s a collaboration between all the programs in growing esports in both their own universities as well as with each other,” he said.
“It’s a great chance for everyone to learn from each other what it means to have an esports program, and because of that, it’d be easier for a school to get their own esports initiative up and running.”
The Pac-U comes after a school year fraught with struggles for university administrations struggling to adapt to a worldwide pandemic.
"...One of the most jarring to many schools' stakeholders has been the shortening or loss of “analog” sports. Football, basketball and other live, physical matches between the schools traditionally foster student community, alumni engagement and showcase the talent of the athletes and the athletic departments of their institutions."
The Pac-U isn’t the first attempt at consolidating collegiate esports, however, and back in 2016 there was a plan in the works for an official Pac-12 esports league. It fell apart in early 2017 due to concerns over Title-IX issues and potential antitrust action if Pac-12 esports were to join the NCAA, according to a 2016 email written during the week the conference voted on the esports league, from Ann Weaver Hart, the former president of the University of Arizona, displayed in a 2018 article discussing the topic. In the project’s wake came PACG in 2018, an independent effort to finish what the Pac-12 initiative started.
PACG never really took off, however, and though they saw a lot of early engagement with esports organizations, hosting tournaments and matches attended by many schools in the West Coast, there hasn’t been much activity in over a year.
So now the Pac-U joins the ranks of leagues like Tespa, Riot Games' College LoL series, Collegiate StarLeague and several other organizations around the nation. However, Pac-U is exhibition based, and “Is not a ‘tournament’ and won’t result in a ‘championship,’ but schools will have a chance to build fandom by scheduling games further out and allow them to bring their analog sports rivalries into the digital arena,” according to their statement.
Michael Ahn, the former USC varsity League of Legends analyst and current Arizona State University coach, is excited about his team’s projections in Pac-U.
“I can’t wait to destroy everyone in it, that’s all,” he said.