eSports at UCLA: Bruins embrace realm of competitive video gaming
The trophy on display in 2013 for the League of Legends World Championship, the highest-level competition for the game. (Creative Commons photo by artubr on Flickr)
By Joey Thimian
Nov. 5, 2015 6:11 pm
The Bruins have been a powerhouse in traditional competitive sports, but UCLA is now taking the digital battlefield seriously as well.
This year, UCLA has greatly increased its competitive presence outside traditional sporting arenas by fielding multiple teams who are representing the Bruins in competitive gaming tournaments. eSports, the collective name for competitive video gaming, has recently seen a massive surge in popularity on campus, paralleling the general interest and growth of the industry.
What is eSports? It is a massively growing subculture inside the video game industry where people watch the best players in the world compete for money and fame. Professionals train and practice much like any other athlete to hone their game and compete at the highest caliber. Popular games with competitive scenes include the team-based action strategy games League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients, fighting games Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros., card game Hearthstone, and first-person shooter Counter-Strike.
In 2015, across these games and many more, more than $52 million has been awarded across more than 3,000 tournaments to these dedicated and talented gamers. Viewership numbers online through platforms such as Twitch.tv and YouTube are seeing exponential growth as eSports matures. The core demographic of these events is college-aged viewers, as the competitive scene brings in an additional deep layer of immersion to one’s favorite games.
Most people think of gamers on campus as socially awkward students locked away in their rooms, only coming out of hiding when the Rendezvous lines are short so they can get some food. However, campus video game culture is undergoing a rapid social growth that parallels that of eSports. Competitive nature is being embraced on campus, bringing the gamers out of hiding as they practice together.
This year, UCLA has seen the inception of multiple new and popular clubs directly related to eSports. Clubs for three of the aforementioned games – DoTA, Counter Strike and Hearthstone – were founded this year as clubs on campus. In addition, new to this year is the popular AUGment club, which aims to unite gamers across multiple games and bring everyone together to make new friends. These clubs also organize viewing parties for the largest international eSports events, such as the League of Legends World Championship, and promote competitive growth.
With the advent of these new clubs, UCLA has seen a renaissance in competitive play in 2015. UCLA is one of only five campuses out of more than 400 competing in the Collegiate StarLeague, the governing body of college eSports, that is fielding a Division I team in every game. The CSL is akin to the NCAA where, as the NCAA oversees basketball and football, the CSL oversees League of Legends and Counter-Strike. As a direct result of these new on-campus organizations allowing gamers to connect and enjoy their shared interests together, UCLA is quickly rising in the ranks to challenge established eSports powerhouses such as UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, University of British Columbia and Georgia Tech.
There is a sense of competitive greatness on campus, one that is looking to be matched in the coming years by those Bruins doing battle on the virtual arena. Good news for the spectators: You do not need a Den Pass, or to even have pants on, to see these student-athletes compete, as their matches are streamed live online every week for hundreds of collegiate viewers. If you play any of the aforementioned games, go check out the respective teams; they’re always looking for new friends.