UCI Opens First University eSports Arena

More than one thousand students attended the official opening of UC Irvine’s new eSports arena last Friday. The 3500-square-foot arena replaced the former Zot Zone in Student Center Terrace, stripping away its pool tables and old equipment for 80 brand new computers and chairs and officially ushering in UCI’s eSports program.

The grand opening event featured booths from sponsors and partners  including iBUYPOWER, NVIDIA, ADATA, VRScout, Anxiety Gaming, ASUS, NZXT, SubPac and UCI Student Clubs and Representatives. In addition, cosplayers and gaming celebrities such as pro gamer Xpecial and League of Legends team Counter Logic Gaming were present during the ribbon-cutting ceremony and subsequent tours of the arena.

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Students try out the brand new computers and equipment in the eSports Arena

Students churned through the arena to see players compete in games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Dota 2 and CS:GO. As they funneled outside of the arena after the tour, they were greeted by dozens of tables full of players in the middle of

Super Smash Bros. matches and booths giving away free merchandise. The terrace was so packed  with attendees that UCIPD officers and campus security regulated the entrance to the arena, allowing people to come in single-file only.

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Photos By Yini Chen

The ribbon-cutting event featured speakers who were integral to the creation of the eSports program at UCI. Mark Deppe, acting director of UCI eSports, introduced the arena and argued that UCI is “ahead of the curve” in terms of its gaming community.

“UC Irvine, we believe, is the best school in the world to start an eSports initiative for several main reasons: First of all, we have a gaming community that is second to none, and secondly, our faculty have been championing games as a worthy academic pursuit for decades.”

Featured speaker Jesse Wang, president of UCI’s Association of Gamers and eSports coordinator, has been involved in gaming clubs since his first year, and is now a fourth-year informatics major.  During his opening remarks, he noted that UCI’s reputation for gaming heavily affected his decision to attend the university.

“I chose UCI for its potential to be a really big hub for gaming, and I’m proud to see that it’s become that,” said Wang. “Now we’re here on the brink of a new era for gaming here at UCI. This is probably one of the most important things to happen to student gamers here on campus.”

The Association of Gamers at UC Irvine (TAG) is the school’s official gaming club, which began in 2011 as League of Legends at UC Irvine. The club has since grown to include many different divisions of games, including League of Legends, Blizzard, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. 4 and Dota 2.

TAG’s stated mission is “to introduce our members to a variety of games, to facilitate relationships between gamers, to provide social and competitive events and opportunities to our members and to spread gaming culture among our peers.” To facilitate this, the campus organization hosts numerous events online and on campus including tournaments, LAN parties and giveaways.

According to ASUCI President Tracy La, eSports is one of the “fastest programs implemented at UCI” in recent memory, with an official launch just months after the success of a survey released last year to gauge student interest in the program. The ASUCI survey of approximately 1,200 UCI students indicated that 72 percent of students identify as a gamers, and 89 percent of students supported the creation of an eSports team.

The arena cost $250,000, relying largely on sponsors instead of public funds. Computer gaming company iBUYPOWER supplied PCs with popular video games as well as additional funding to reduce the scholarship and program costs to the school. League of Legends publisher Riot Games will provide bonuses like experience bonuses, IP boosts, over 100 skins and a “full champion unlock” to UCI gamers. Logitec, ASUS and Vertagear donated chairs, components and monitors to the new arena as well. In addition, to help pay for the arena, UCI students and members of the public using the arena computers will be charged $4 per hour.

Earlier this week, UCI eSports also announced its partnership with Oomba, an Irvine-based gaming company working on creating a social media network specifically for organizing teams, leagues, and tournaments. Oomba provided big-screen televisions for the arena’s walls.

UCI’s eSports program is the first of its kind at a major public research institution. Members of UCI’s gaming team were selected much like traditional college athletes, based on their skills and their academic record. Team members will receive about $15,000 each in scholarships to help pay tuition and feels, and will also be able to keep any winnings from tournaments.

UCI’s League of Legends team is not yet complete, but the current roster includes notable players from around the world. Veteran professional Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov will play support for the team. Renowned players James “LattmaN” Lattman and Parsa “Frostalicious” Baghai will play in the bottom lane. Young-bin “Youngbin” Chung, of Seoul, South Korea will play mid lane. Chung formerly played League of Legends at Robert Morris University, the first school to introduce eSports scholarships. Loc “Pandasaurus” Tran will play the jungle spot. Justin “Pupper Reformed” Choi, from UCI’s club League of Legends team, is expected to fill the top lane position on the team.

President La noted that UCI has historically been home to a robust gaming community and expressed her hope that the eSports arena will foster camaraderie between student gamers.

“This initiative will build an inclusive and welcoming community for everyone,” said La. “The new arena will provide an accessible space for students to connect with one another.”