February 26, 2023
Enrique De La Torre oversees the Smash Bros tournaments held on Tuesday evenings in George’s at the LBJ Student Center. As President of Texas State Esports, De La Torre believes these events are a valuable recruiting tool. “We have gotten a bunch of people, who were not originally in our club who are now in our club because of Smash,” says De La Torre.
Though the Smash Bros tournaments are not official competitions, it is an opportunity for students to game with other students and for team members to practice and recruit. “The main benefit is the players are allowed to improve amongst themselves and, you know, they get to make connections,” De La Torre added.
Many of us know about or play video games like Smash Bros on a personal console such as XBOX or Nintendo Switch. Some may even play online games like Minecraft or Fortnite with other players. But esports is much more than a casual gaming experience, and most don’t understand that esports is, in fact, a sport.
Gaming is a global industry with a market value of over $220 billion in 2022, according to Grand View Research, a global business intelligence firm. Professional gamers earn millions of dollars competing, and like other professional athletes – yes, athletes – lucrative corporate sponsorships. The same way ESPN posts stats on football players, websites such as esportsearnings.com track the stats of the top 100 esports athletes, with the top 25 earning well over the 3-million-dollar mark in lifetime earnings. Like football, esports thrives on fans and other gamers watching the athletes practice and compete. Twitch, an interactive livestreaming service averages over 2 million viewers per month. YouTube has a dedicated gaming channel with over 93 million subscribers and many professional teams and players have channels with huge followings.
Colleges and universities across the nation have esports, ranging from informal recreational sport clubs to premiere varsity programs. Miami University Esports, known as the Redhawks, is regarded as the first Division 1 or varsity collegiate program, according to their university website. It is often ranked as one of the top three varsity programs in the U.S. and was named by Best Colleges as the 2022 collegiate Esports program of the year. The university, located in Oxford Ohio, entices talented college-bound gamers with varsity athlete benefits – including scholarships, paid travel, dedicated coaching staff and physical training as well as three different esports arenas for practice and competition.
Where participation in recreational sports on college campuses can be a way for students to build community and encourage health and well-being outside of academics, esports is often more academically focused. Full Sail University in Florida offers an undergraduate degree in Game Business and Esports, and boasts an 11,000 square foot arena that can seat 500 spectators. Their varsity squad is known as “The Armada” and has over 100 athletes on a dozen different teams. At Maryville University, Aiden “Niles” Tidwell and Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson were the first League of Legends players from the program to turn pro. Both were accepted into the League Championship Series, or LSC team, the “Golden Guardians” in 2020, which is an esports affiliate of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
De La Torre agrees that esports leads to a variety of careers, “There’s a lot of jobs in esports. … we have more than just like competitive video games, like we allow students like to work on our social medias … we have students who will cast games you know just like sportscasters in professional sports like football and basketball.”
Members of the Texas State team have had jobs in the industry as well. “Our former president, for a while he was a tournament organizer for NACE,” De La Torre said. NACE, the National Association of Collegiate Esports is the largest collegiate esports association in the nation, with over 240 member colleges and universities. The association provides guidance for eligibility and competition as well as millions of dollars in scholarships and aid. Along with elite collegiate programs, NACE collaborates with companies such as Microsoft and Nintendo to support student athletes. These collaborations often serve as a pipeline for college graduates to be recruited for jobs in the gaming industry.
Building a varsity program on a college campus requires significant resources in funding and technology, and dedicated recruiting is critical for a successful team. Esports programs, like the program at Texas State, face a wide variety of obstacles in working toward the goal of D1 status. De La Torre is currently ranked diamond 1 in League of Legends, which is in the top .5% of players and believes that D1 teams have advantages in keeping stronger, more consistent teams. “We’ll maybe get some random player who’s very good and they just came here already by chance,” says De La Torre, “and we’ll do good for a season but the next season you know they graduate they transfer or whatever happens and then our teams don’t perform as high.”
As club president, De La Torre shared that he has met with University President Kelly Damphousse to bring to light the challenges the team faces due to slow equipment and limited access to practice spaces. The esports arena in the LBJ Student Center seats just a dozen players with no space for spectators. “Unfortunately, the esports arena, it’s showing its age now,” he said, discussing that most games require “very high performance to run efficiently.” Charlie Salas, the Interim Director for the LBJ Student Center recalls when the arena was created. “Computers were pretty new,” says Salas, “[university] VP Pierce and IT funded the computer purchase… I think in 2019?” Salas went on to say that there was corporate interest early on but did not know if it led to any support for the team. He added, t “We [the LBJ Student Center] purchased all of the furniture. We paid for the electrical work and the projector.”
The process of keeping equipment updated costs money, can take time, and also requires staff with technical knowledge. De La Torre said that there is only one staff member who can assist the team with technical issues, “he’s just one guy and he can’t do it all the time.” He added that the staff member may not always be available when the team needs help, especially on nights and weekends – times when most members practice.
De La Torre and the other members of the Texas State Esports club will continue to meet with university administration – in an effort to make progress in securing more support from the university, and more importantly, more funding – to eventually become a division 1 program. For now, De La Torre wants to make sure that students, like those who come to the Tuesday night tournaments at George’s, have a good time. He stressed that students should not be intimidated by competitive gaming, “It’s more than perfectly fine to come and just have fun and not everyone has to compete for us.”