UCI: An Esports Paradise
UCI, home to world-renown research, sunny weather, and video games? While most college campuses are full of traditional athletic teams and clubs, UCI has all of that and more. In addition to a flourishing world of organizations, UCI is also home to one of the best Esports hubs in the country, an on-campus Esports Arena. Esports, or electronic sports, is any video game played by multiple players, plus fierce competition and an excited audience. However, when you’re at UCI, video games is not merely an amazing way to pass time; Esports has become a foundation for research, careers, and a wonderful community. UCI’s Esports Arena has made this a reality.
Formerly an arcade called the Zot Zone, the UCI Esports Arena is a state-of-the-art paradise for gamers. UCI’s Esports Arena has created the perfect space for an a entire video game community.The vision began three years ago in 2015, and its ribbon-cutting ceremony in September of 2016 opened the Arena to the entire public. Anyone from campus or the community is welcome to come into Arena. In order to use their equipment, you do need to pay a certain amount per hour. Why pay to play the games you have access to at home? At my first visit to the Arena, I asked this very same questions to Nick Gasparyan, Digital Marketing Intern of the Esports Arena and aspiring Esports businessman. Nick quickly explained that investing in time at the Arena gives any gamer access to incredible equipment: 72 state-of-the-art iBUYPOWER computers, Logitech gaming gear, and incredible internet speeds and processors to make competitive gaming an unparalleled experience. “If you were to pay for this level of equipment,” Nick said, “it would cost thousands of dollars.” The funding for this expensive equipment is not from university instead, tech companies like iBUYPOWER, Logitech, and Kickstart sponsor the costs of the program.
While it is not student funded, the Esports Arena can fund its students. The Esports Arena scouts for teams for League of Legends and Overwatch. Members of the team must be ranked in Masters or Challenger/Grandmaster and go through an application process detailed here, but once you’re on the team, members can earn up to $5,000 in scholarships through gaming. According to their website, the Esports Arena is planning on expanding their scholarships to “expose underrepresented communities to gaming with a pathway to academic and professional interest in STEM.” What is fascinating about the Esports Arena is that it simultaneously offers a space for the community while working against the problematic aspects of Esports. The Arena directly tackles Esports largest issue, which they describe as “toxicity against women and minorities.” UCI aims to incorporate their campus culture of inclusivity and social justice into this Esports space. In Spring 2017, the Esports Arena created the Diversity and Inclusion in Esports Task Force, which created inclusivity plan with measures such as Girls and Gaming summer Camp, a Newbie Night (which allows newcomers try these video games in a safe and welcoming environment), and incorporating bystander training for the hired staff at the Arena. What’s truly special about the Esports Arena is that it continues the wonderful traditions of the video game world, but is eagerly working to improve the community.
The Esports Arena has also begun to blur the lines between video games and schoolwork. UCI has flourished as an Esports space, especially with the Donald Bren School of ICS’s degree problem, Computer Game Science. Video games have been the subject of research, and the Esports Arena is now able to offer direct funding to UROP participants for relevant projects. Esports research is more interdisciplinary than you might think; research projects have studied the communication within League of Legends groups from a psychological and neurological perspective.
Beyond research, video games can now help you build your profession and secure a job. Take Sam Anton for example. Sam is a recent UCI alum, graduated in the class of 2016. After an illustrious career at UCI, Anton has gone on to become Chief Operating Officer for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation. As Chief Operating Officer, Anton specializes in high school Esports, overseeing tournaments and marketing. “My role has many layers to it, from project management to support services to event planning, but at the end of the day, it comes back to the question: are we accomplishing everything we set out to?” Esports is not only becoming an exciting past-time, but a flourishing profession as well.
Gabriel Baltazar, alumni and former employee at the Esports Arena, captures the Arena’s sparkling possibilities best when he says, “Esports is growing. It’s becoming HUGE. Watch out for it. There is an entire new market being forged with several realms of possibilities and opportunities for people to participate. Imagine an entirely new NBA/NFL being created; imagine the jobs, communities, fans, and so many other things that could sprout from this movement. UCI Esports is a pioneer in this field, and if you are looking to get anywhere near video games in your future, walk through the doors of the arena, and say hi to people in there. They’re amazing people, they will help you, and they will open this home to you.” If you’re ever on this campus, the Arena welcomes you to this new home.