eSports at UAA: Building real community in a virtual world

A growing community meets in the Student Union united by their passion for video games.

Gamers from diverse backgrounds converge by the Union Station coffee shop. They bring their consoles from home to share with their fellow gamers. Hardcore gamers compete in tournaments, playing games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate. More casual gamers still have the opportunity to participate, but are also welcome to spectate if they would prefer.

Students set up a Super Smash Bros Ultimate tournament in the Student Union. Photo by Robert Gant.

Shawn Street, a sophomore business administration major, used to consider himself more of a traditional athlete, or in his words a “jock.” However, he did not feel he fit in with that community. Street found a welcoming network of gamers that would eventually become his friends when he came across the eSports corner of the Student Union.

“We all play different [gaming] strategies,” Street said. “When we mess up, we laugh or sometimes we win and laugh. It can get pretty heated, but mostly fun.”

Reece Perez, another student at UAA, considers himself more of a casual gamer. Perez met the gamers he now calls his friends when looking for a place to unwind between classes. He is grateful for the sense of community and friendship that eSports has given him.

“I learned to adapt and strategize with the people I know in the student union,” Perez said. “Video games are a way for me to relax.”

eSports is defined as competitive video games, either in person, at tournaments or online. According to the World Economic Forum, eSports is anticipated to be a billion dollar industry within a few years. The revenue is derived from the spectators and fans who view eSports live streams and corporate sponsorships. The United States government recognizes professional League of Legends gaming as a legitimate sport.

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Cody Buechner is the Leadership Coordinator for Student Clubs and Greek Life. Buechner recently returned from an eSports summit in Fairbanks and is drafting a cost-effective remodel of the space the gamers frequent. He sees eSports as a future varsity sport or academic program for college campuses.

“This industry is taking off and people are quick to jump on sponsorship boards,” Buechner said. “While the [eSports] club is able to use it, we’re just trying to make a facility where anybody who wants to play a game on a high functioning computer can do it. How can we take our future students, current students and the rest of the community and give them a space for gaming?”

Casual or hardcore, present student or potential student, eSports and gaming is a vehicle for the community to collaborate and build relationships. Any visitor to the Student Union is welcome to show up and join in.