UTSNZ has set its Esports Challenge Series for FIFA 20 and League of Legends ©UTSNZ

The University and Tertiary Sport New Zealand (UTSNZ) has this week opened registration for its inaugural national Esports Challenge Series.

The opening of registration comes after a recent boom in esports in the nation, which is now part of many university sport programmes worldwide.

The University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Waikato and University of Canterbury have all established esports clubs.

A "Fighting Games Club" has also been created in the University of Otago, which is open to everyone with a console and a controller for weekly meetups and friendlies, as well as regular tournament brackets.

Last year, the University of Waikato opened its first esports arena in an aim to bring students together.

It has also opened doors for graduates with more jobs in game development, coding and tournament operations, among others.

Some universities have held animation, visual effects and game design courses.

The UTSNZ has set up rules and regulations as well as tournaments for esports in a bid to grow the industry.

Esports are growing around the world, largely thanks to the recent COVID-19 pandemic ©Getty Images
Esports are growing around the world, largely thanks to the recent COVID-19 pandemic ©Getty Images

The UTSNZ Esport Challenge Series has been welcomed by University of Auckland gamer Andy Chen, who recently represented his nation in the Oceania University League of Legends tournament.

"The negative stigma around esports will unfortunately continue to exist unless we work together to correct it, which starts with showing that esports is more than just 'gaming' - it can be a legitimate pathway if we help it grow," Chen said.

Specific events are popping up around the nation, including the new UTSNZ Esport Challenge Series in FIFA 20 and League of Legends, the longer-standing Oceania League of Legends University Tournament and the global International University Sport Federation (FISU) Esport Challenge - Football.

Firdaus Mat Shairi from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand's representative at the FISU event, spoke about his experience in the international tournament.

"Representing New Zealand and the University of Canterbury in the FISU meant a whole new world for me," he said.

"I'm so grateful, honoured and thrilled at the same time to be chosen to compete in a world tournament."

The global esports audience is expected to jump above 500 million in 2021 and has been further boosted by the turn to virtual events in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.