USF Esports will soon have a physical presence on the Tampa campus. Located inside the recreation and wellness center, the 2,500 square foot Esports Living Lab will feature 40 computers and will be divided into spaces for casual games and nightlife, content creation and competitive games. . With around 500 million players and fans around the world, competitive video gaming is emerging as one of the most popular forms of recreation in the world.
“Having a separate competition space allows fans to watch the games in person without being a distraction, but then imagine the players coming out after a big win and there are all their friends,” said Antonio Gonzalez, deputy director of programs. USF Tampa athletes. Campus.
Originally advocated by leaders of the Video Game Club and student government, the USF Student Success Unit formalized the program in 2020, providing it with resources and future funding opportunities through the student government. Since its inception, the program has grown from supporting the Tampa campus to bringing together students from all three campuses.
“Esports is an opportunity for us to bridge and build a community of not only competitive and casual gamers, but also people with a general interest in video games,” said Bart Stucker, Recreation Programs Coordinator. and welfare at USF Sarasota-Manatee. Campus.
The program has its own Discord server – a free communication platform that allows players to talk or text while playing. Student and staff moderators trained in conflict management help cultivate a friendly, safe and inclusive environment within the esports server.
“We are inheriting at the college level this problem of sexist and racist behavior that sometimes plagues esports, and it’s our job to try to educate these members when they enter our space because they may not know no better, ”Gonzalez said. “In esport, there isn’t a lot of structure like you see with traditional sports. There are not those mentoring opportunities like in Little League Baseball that train you to know good sportsmanship and have adult supervision trying to guide that growth. At USF, we want to create a space for reform and for students to grow and learn more about themselves and others.
Sarah Lynch, a junior studying art history, transferred to USF when classes were held remotely due to the coronavirus. She struggled to meet other people while living in Orlando and taking classes virtually. Lynch heard about USF Esports through word of mouth and was excited to finally meet other students who shared her love of video games.
“USF Esports is an agent of change,” said Lynch, marketing program assistant for sports programs on the Tampa campus and student moderator for the Esports program. “It is one of the safest and most tolerant environments I have found myself in. ”
Another opportunity for esports members is the thriving partnership with the Vinik Sports & Entertainment Management program at Muma College of Business. To keep business students at the forefront of this growing esports trend, the very first esports business course began last spring as part of the program’s curriculum. Ranked # 3 in the world in 2021 by SportBusiness, the program hosts an annual esports summit with presentations and discussions with top esports industry leaders and experts.
“We are working with them to bring speakers together and organize events to introduce what esport is and bring it back to the community from a business perspective, but also from an educational perspective,” said Gonzalez. .
In the USF Esports program, there are individual clubs for specific games. Currently, the 10 active clubs include: Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., Rocket League, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO), Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, VALORANT, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Dota and Carte à collect. Games.
“By allowing us to recognize these individual game titles, we are able to offer students more support and opportunities to compete in leagues, get to tournaments and really focus on how they are. can build their individual communities, ”Gonzalez said.
In addition to casual gaming, the program hosts intramural and tournaments across multiple platforms, including PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, and broadcasts many of the team’s competitions live on its Twitch channel, a platform for social media that allows the public to watch matches and interact with players. in real time. Students can still be part of the community even if they just want to watch and support the players.
These competitions go beyond confrontation with other Bulls and allow members to take their college rivalries to a whole new level. The 2020 Esports Battle for Florida FIFA20 tournament brought the USF face to face with Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of Florida. The USF Esports 2020 Fall Invitational brought together students from 39 US universities and one from Canada.
For players with limited access to an Internet browser, USF Esports wants to make sure they’re included as well. Community game nights incorporate games outside of the console and PC-specific titles to include everyone in the fun.
“You don’t have to be good,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really that community building that I think people miss when they only think of esports from a competitive side.”
Having a physical space on campus where students can access play equipment free of charge will expand the program’s efforts to make esports more inclusive. Additionally, the program plans to use the space to host events for marginalized communities within esports, such as women and African Americans. “We want to be able to have events where people can see other people they identify with and then build that community,” Gonzalez said.
The USF Esports Living Lab is scheduled to open in the spring.