Just one year after the University of Victoria transitioned to remote learning, and intramural sports were put on hold, Vikes gamers will have the opportunity to participate in the first-ever Canadian Collegiate Esports League (CCEL) event alongside 12 other Canadian institutions on May 29, 2021.

Last spring’s pause in in-person competition inspired Vikes intramural coordinator Joni Richardson to pivot and find creative ways to keep the community engaged. Spending countless hours exploring new and unfamiliar territory, she learned all she could about competitive online gaming—the result: Vikes Esports.

Vikes Esports is a student-led program under Vikes Recreation with the goal of building a community for gamers across campus and beyond and leverage that community to help turn UVic into an esports powerhouse.

“As an intramural department, we are familiar with the love of traditional sport and in-person connection. I am new to esports and needed a group of students to help provide direction and advocacy for the programming so I created an advisory of UVic students to actively participate in a three-year plan for esports, said Richardson.

“From there, we discussed the need for an intercollegiate league within Canada; a way to play other students from other institutions, for Canadians by Canadians at a collegiate level.”

While researching existing opportunities, Richardson kept running into roadblocks with data privacy laws as most of the leagues are based in the United States.

“I was fortunate to connect with the GYO Score team, who walked me through what it takes to build a program from scratch. Collaborating with the traditional sport programmers across the country led to the development of a task force and under the guidance of Herena Data to create the CCEL,” she continued.

On March 14, esports community aggregator Harena Data announced the launch of the CCEL, a competitive video gaming league in partnership with Canada’s most forward-thinking universities. The CCEL aims to nationalize esports adoption among Canadian universities by creating a unified body to organize, manage, and lead collegiate esports.

What was once a niche market is now mainstream as esports continues its rise as one of the biggest growth areas in recent years.

“We’ve gained 300 new to us students who would not normally use any of our services, and another 500 in our Discord. Esports is an opportunity to share the Vikes values with more students on and off-campus and a way for us to connect and engage these athletes in a different way.”

According to Richardson, esports was always in the conversation and always on the radar, but the pandemic provided the need to explore new programs and the opportunity to do the work.

For Vikes Esports, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The goal moving forward is to expand current offerings regularly and provide more opportunities to more students of varying interests. The long-term goal is to eventually send teams to compete across Canada and offer competitive scholarships for esports athletes.

The CCEL’s first event, a Rocket League tournament on May 29, will create an excellent opportunity for schools to battle it out for reputation and prizes.

A list of participating universities at launch include:

  • University of Victoria
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Windsor
  • Dalhousie University
  • Holland College
  • Mount Royal University
  • York University
  • McGill University
  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of Regina
  • Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
  • University of Lethbridge
  • University of British Columbia Okanagan
  • University of Manitoba