By Yanit Mehta
After its grand opening at the beginning of fall quarter 2016, UCI’s eSports program has been focusing on expanding its impact on campus and increasing the benefits of the popular eSports arena, advantages of the offered scholarships and the newfound support and validation of the gaming community.
Griffin Williams, Captain of the Super Smash Bros. Melee Team, President of Melee Club, and Executive Officer of TAG (the largest eSports club on campus) discussed the impact the eSports program has had on campus since its inception.
“It’s a really good thing for our university, UCI to give an air of legitimacy to eSports as an industry, because one of the main things for eSports is that it doesn’t really have a strong and an official foothold in the collegiate scene,” said Williams.
UCI is currently the only public university with an official eSports program. Williams says the eSports Department and eSports arena have benefitted the gaming community immensely, both on and off campus.
“I know for the PC eSports teams like League, DOTA 2 and CS:GO to practice on high-end equipment…they needed a place to train together,” said Williams. “Since some people might not have the best hardware to play on and a place to meet up, at the eSports arena everything is provided; it’s really convenient for that. For Super Smash Bros. Melee and Smash 4 it also provides a place for us to keep consoles and systems there.”
The eSports arena has three free-to-play Melee set-ups for students to walk in and play whenever the arena is open. Williams stated that the investment in UCI’s gaming community was worth the cost.
“The UCI Melee team is actually, currently the best in the world,” he said. UCI won The Melee Games (TMG): a worldwide collegiate competition with over 150 premier-collegiate participating. UCI is also a favorite to win this year as the university is already in the top 16, and will play University of Arizona for the chance to enter the top 8 on March 5.
“We definitely have a very strong presence in literally every game,” said Griffin. “Our League of Legends team is very strong, we offer scholarships, and we are the public university to offer that. CS:GO and Overwatch teams are very strong too.”
In regards to the potential for scholarships for games other than League of Legends, Williams explained the difficulty in getting support and scholarships for games like Melee because Nintendo doesn’t support the professional scene as much as Riot Games does for LoL, since Riot Games not only supports but essentially controls the competitive scene for LoL.
“One of the main unfortunate things [is] that we don’t have developer support but I wouldn’t be surprised if Melee had scholarships in the future. But I have not heard of any concrete plans of it at the time being,” said Williams. “The eSports department definitely wants to expand beyond just League of Legends but as of now it’s just the most popular in general.”
Jesse Wang, a co-ordinator of the eSports program and a fourth-year UCI student said that the arena has brought the formerly disparate gaming community at UCI together.
“I think the arena’s been really helpful in creating a space on campus for gamers to hang out. Before, we didn’t really have a place on campus to call our home, but now we do,” said Wang. “I think for a long time we’ve been a small majority on campus doing cool things and despite all the success our clubs had and all the success our teams have had, [we] felt unappreciated, but now the support and the feeling of being on campus is amazing and validating.”
He also discussed how the scholarship program helps students who are passionate about gaming to get through college and feel rewarded for their commitment.
“Not everyone that plays basketball goes on to hit the NBA, but a lot of people who actually put in the effort to play basketball and practice basketball, at least get their education covered,” he said. “Our spring of opportunity to League of Legends professional scene really helped pro-gamers get a little more security and also a little more stability in their careers. Whereas, earlier if we don’t make it, you’re all out of luck, but now if we don’t make it at least we can get our education covered.”