Feature

Down But Not Out: UCLA Students Revive Flagging Campus Esports Initiative

In the professional esports scene, it is not uncommon for organizations to disband and dissipate after rough seasons, relegations, or financial issues. While the players of a disbanded organization filter back into the free agency food chain, brand name never seems to resurrect.

Translate this idea into the collegiate esports scene. One would think that when a collegiate esports club or organization must cease operations that it is done for good, especially in the big-name universities. The lack of support from most university athletic departments puts a lot of stress and responsibility on the individual students to keep everything afloat when operating a multi-platform esports organization. So what happens when a collegiate esports club makes an attempt at a comeback? The University of California at Los Angeles is coming up with an answer for that question right at this very moment.

Esports at UCLA Members (left to right), Daniel Hu (Statistician), Sunny Yen (President), Edwin Zhou (Social Media Manager), and Anya Li (Graphics Artist) - Credit Esports at UCLA

Around two years ago, the Association of UCLA Gamers club, also known as AUGment, was formed. In the first two years of existence, AUGment was able to create a strong presence in the collegiate esports scene, especially in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Hearthstone. However, the gradual incline of dominance would begin to nose dive midway through 2017. Earlier this summer, AUGment seemed to dissipate completely, foreshadowing a grim ending for organized esports at UCLA.

Sunny Yen, UCLA student and former AUGment member, commented on the dissipation, saying that “AUGment was marred by internal issues, just really stretched thin because of overambitious projects.”

Despite such a negative blow to the esports community on campus, Yen was not one to mourn for very long. Instead, Yen took it into his own hands and turned the situation into a positive. Wanting to maintain the dominant teams already set up from the AUGment era, he decided to revamp the esports program into something bigger and better, flying under the new name of Esports at UCLA.

In the short time since its formation, Esports at UCLA has already produced strong results. Earlier this month, Esports at UCLA member, Shawn Footitt, won the Hearthstone Red Bull Team Brawl, a collegiate Hearthstone event where students who won their online qualifiers were placed on teams captained by professional players, alongside a UT Arlington student and professional Hearthstone player, Hafu. 

Outside of the competitive scene, Esports at UCLA is making positive pushes in physical club growth. Staff is expanding with writers, coaches, and managers hopping on board, as well as growth within club membership. With both internal and external factors showing positive growth for Esports at UCLA, Yen is striving for a prosperous future.

“The long-term goal of Esports [at] UCLA is to become officially sanctioned by UCLA and UCLA Athletics,” said Yen. “We want to lay the groundwork to begin building a competitive esports program here on campus.  This includes scholarships, practice rooms, production crews, and other exciting things. We only started a few months ago, so, for now, we are focused on growing slowly, figuring out logistics and producing quality content for our followers.”

If Esports at UCLA were to become sanctioned by the university, it would become the second program established in the Pac-12 Conference, alongside the University of Utah. While the bar is set high, Yen understands that this is not an overnight process. Success and growth must continue in the organization as it had within AUGment, but Esports at UCLA has to offer something more to stick out from the rest.

“Most gaming clubs on campus within recent memory have failed to deliver the organized, passionate, and dedicated community that can garner attention from UCLA,” said Yen. “Esports [at] UCLA is the first step we can take to unifying our audience and showing them that this is something that the student body wants.”

Alongside success as a driving factor to increase attraction to the organization for growth, opportunity for interested students is very broad, with a wide variety of competitive teams available to try out for. This coming academic year, Esports at UCLA is looking to field competitive teams in League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Heroes of the Storm, and potentially a World of Warcraft Dungeon team.

Do not set the bar low just because Esports at UCLA is a new organization. The history of dominant competitive teams laid track for a thriving future across multiple games. Returning roster members and high hopes of newcomers have instilled Yen with confidence.

“The sky is the limit, and I can’t wait to see our athletes play their hearts out.”

If you are interested in following along Esports at UCLA throughout the year, you can go to their website at uclaesports.com. If there is an up and coming university that you think will make an impact in the CSL scene this year and would like to see a feature on them, tweet at George, or at the CSL Twitter!

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