Esports Gaming Seeks Validation from University
By Dane Byrd and Thomas Galindo
Esports, or competitive gaming, has been growing on college campuses nationwide including here at the University of Texas at Austin.
On their official website, Longhorn Gaming defines themselves as “the central hub for casual and competitive gaming at the University of Texas at Austin.” Longhorn Gaming has 23 teams competing in leagues for games across multiple genres including FPS, fighting-games, MOBAs and rhythm-games.
At the start of this spring semester, LG became a sponsored student organization, granting them possible funding and other benefits from the university. However, given the on-going pandemic and 75 percent of students learning remotely last fall, the new designation couldn’t change the fact that all of LG’s teams would be competing from home gaming setups this semester.
“In terms of raw talent we are up there,” said Call of Duty team manager Harrison Chung. “We played really well throughout the season despite this being the first time competing as a team. There’s a lot of talent at UT and it’s a shame esports aren’t more recognized at UT compared to other campuses.”
Chung sees the university promoting the program as instrumental in bringing competitive talent to Longhorn Gaming. “If we achieve that higher status, more students can hear about us.
“After our season ended, we already had interest from incoming students in the class of ‘25 who want to compete for UT. If there’s interest from that far away, then I can’t imagine how many people are coming to UT and don’t know about LG,” Chung said.
Call of Duty is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game franchise from publisher and developer Activision. The series is a behemoth in the gaming industry with the most recent installments being the U.S.’ top sellers for 2020: a year where total spending on video games in the U.S. reached $56.9 billion. This April, Activision announced the series’ premium games lifetime sales had passed 400 million copies.
LG’s team competes in two Call of Duty leagues against schools nationwide: the College Call of Duty League (CCL), a continental grassroots student competition, and Call of Duty Collegiate, run by Activision.
“It’s my first time playing competitively in a uniformed, setup-type league. I’ve played online matches here and there but nothing so official in the way that the CCL is … how it is actually backed by Activision,” said team member Zach Cavavos.
In competitions, teams face off in head-to-head matches. Each match is a best-of-five game gauntlet featuring three game-modes, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy and Control, Cavazos explains.
“The second half of the season we played really well, we played lights-out,” said Cavazos. “Going into the playoff qualifiers we had to win two matches but we got an unlucky draw and had to go up against the defending champions.
“If we had a little more time, and a little more recognition, we definitely could have been in the top 25 in the nation,” Chung said. “Our brackets were as hard as they could be.”
For Longhorn Gaming, lack of recognition and resources are two main obstacles moving forward. To combat these issues, the two most immediate goals are to achieve varsity sports status and to have a facility to house the organization. LG’s newest esports director for the 2021-2022 season Daphne Grignon said they are taking steps in the right direction.
Meanwhile, other schools’ esports programs are already beyond that phase of development.
“If you look at other schools, they have full setups for their teams, and even conference rooms for their teams,” Chung said. “We’re lacking over here. We don’t have anything like that.”
Grignon explained that having a facility would help to maximize the potential of the players on the team by improving their communication and equipment quality.
“We have an esports gaming center being developed right now,” Grignon said. “We recently got partnered with University Unions to find an official spot on campus for our esports teams. It’s still a work in progress and the planning and designing of it is taking place in the summer. It’s starting to look a lot more legitimate.”
These schools are beginning to recruit and offer scholarships for players to come play at their schools as well. Chung said UT needs to act quickly before it is too late.
“High school recruitment is growing, and esports is only going to grow with that. Scholarships are definitely going to be something in the future. My only fear is that UT is always known to have been late to hop on these trains and if other schools get to scholarships before we do, there’s not going to be any drive to play here.”
Longhorn Gaming is here to stay, as well as collegiate esports. With the organization continuing to grow, Grignon says these demands being met is important to maximize the potential of LG and its members.
“For me, what’s most important is making sure all our teams have their chance to shine,” Grignon said. “Other universities have the resources that make it more likely for them to compete at a higher level. LG is doing great for what we have, but if we had more resources I think LG could potentially compete at a way higher level.”