By: Nduati Macharia
Photo Provided by Justin Muscat
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the release of the Super Smash series’ Ultimate installment—a crossover fighting game series whose playable and non-playable characters span across a plethora of Nintendo games—many would find it quite necessary to spotlight one of the most impactful and integral figures of the gaming community not only at UC Irvine, but possibly in all of college gaming, Justin Muscat.
While most would want to move away from home temporarily for college, Muscat decided to stay close to home. The president of the Super Smash Club community grew up just south of Irvine in Aliso Viejo. He often traveled to Irvine to visit his grandparents, so the area wasn’t unfamiliar to him. This made it easy for him to go to UCI and ingratiate himself in the gaming community there. Though he originally wanted to relocate, the prestigious gamer was swayed to stay close to home in large part because of the comfortability and familiarity of the UCI gaming community. So familiar, in fact, that he dubbed himself the “Muskrat Catcher,” his competitive Super Smash play nickname and a name that originated from his hunter uncle who, whenever looking for someone in his family, would say, “Let’s go Muskrat huntin’!” The name stuck.
“I was certainly planning on moving further away for college. I didn’t even consider UCI as an option until I toured it. It wasn’t because I was previously interested but because it was so close,” said Muscat. “However, UCI quickly became one of my top choices due to a variety of factors, including the fact that I had already attended UCI smash tournaments while still in high school, so I already knew some students there.”
Four years later, the “Muskrat Catcher” has laid a sturdy foundation and drawn the blueprint to follow for a promising future ahead of the team. In a school that is as progressive and forward as UCI is within the eSports community— becoming the first school to have an eSports arena—the institution has offered gaming scholarships for games such as League of Legends and Overwatch among others. However, the large gaming community at UCI surrounding the Super Smash series was not initially considered for scholarships.
Under Muscat’s stewardship, this changed. He feels that implementing the scholarship program for Super Smash players was his biggest stamp during his college career.
“Certainly the biggest growth under my leadership would be the scholarship program. It’s a really big deal considering UCI is the only school to be offering scholarships for Smash Ultimate and it was one of my greatest personal desires to see as soon as I heard UCI was giving out scholarships for gaming,” Muscat said.
By implementing the scholarship program for Super Smash players, UCI is creating the possibility for other universities who also have gaming teams to offer gaming scholarships—as of now, this practice is very rare.
Muscat has helped to further establish why UCI and Orange County are the face of the gaming community—through his involvement, UCI has become a pioneer in the inclusion of gaming in higher education.
Playing Super Smash started as a hobby, but now it’s more than that.
To him, “It’s really a labor of love.”