Esports: more than a club

Zane Turner, Staff Writer

Esports is growing at a significant rate, now being played on national television channels such as ESPN. There is no longer a call for whether esports is considered valid as their player base grows as well as the audience who chooses to watch them.  

According to a study made by Business Insider, the esports market is projected to be worth more than $1.5 billion dollars by 2023.  That is nearly 1/8th of the revenue pulled in by the giant National Basketball Association (NBA). Money for this sport is coming in substantially, and all the major sports markets are starting to indulge in it.  For example, during the pandemic when sports were delayed ESPN chose to broadcast esports on national television, and still continue to show esports games to this day.  

So, what is it like to be a part of this sport? What is it like to do what many may consider a hobby on the professional collegiate stage? 

“We consider ourselves a professional club that is designed to win and have fun,” said Zane Mooney, UNA’s Esports president.

Mooney said he takes his job very seriously. While he does have a good time, at the end of the day, this is a serious sport. As the president Mooney will establish monthly council meetings to discuss issues and the future of the club.  He also talks with investors as well as helping the North Alabama Gaming social media pages.  

“[While esports tends to be more relaxed,] the environment is a lot more serious when we scrimmage and have competitions,” said Mooney.

However, students are not the only ones who value this club. The university itself takes it has taken strides to aid the club as they have secured a luxurious facility in the basement of Covington Hall

“We have our own $20,000 facility with 8 towers and 2 Nintendo Switches,” Mooney said. “Students are not required to have their own PC [Personal Computer], but most do.”  

The club has secured these funds through a sponsorship deal with SteelSeries, a Japanese computer manufacturer, which produces the equipment needed to perform at these high-level competitions.

The club values the chance to play at any esports competition as a lot can be at stake. 

For the top teams, there is almost always prize money for winning large scale competitions. This prize money can be used for scholarships or can be used to aid teams in buying equipment. For example, last year, the collegiate Esports championship was held in Houston, Texas and was awarded $48,000 in scholarship money to the winners of each game. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all competitions have been transferred to online.  

For most team members, they are not in esports for the prize but are in for the experience of playing on a professional team.

“The club is super fun,” said Dallas Freeman, a member of the club. “I have been lucky enough to compete throughout the years, but a lot of these guys are utilizing this as their first time being on a team.”  

The club is full of both veteran players and players who may be new to the competitive scene. 

“It makes for a welcoming environment where guys who are new to games are just as able to compete as veterans in the title,” said Freeman.

The question is always raised: What is it like to play on an esports team? How competitive can it get? And, how much dedication does it require?

“We do have assigned practice times where guys go to the facility to practice with each other, but we are also [consistently] practicing with each other throughout the week,” Freeman said.

Those involved in UNA’s esport practice twice a week. Typically, the days that they train depends on the hardware needed for the game. 

“During these practice times, we tend to focus more on watching film, ironing out strategies, and doing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis,” said Freeman.  

In order to play at these competitive levels, like any other sport, there has to be fluidity throughout the team. They have to know each other’s every move before they make it.

“Yet, throughout the week, we play casually with each other to help our team chemistry, to cater to each other’s play style and to stay updated with new Most Effective Tactics Available (METAs),” said Freeman.

There is no doubt that blood, sweat and tears are put into this club every day.  The members of this club are devoted to gaming, and that is one of many reasons for their success.

 However, hard work can all go to waste if the team itself does not work well together.

“There’s a strong sense of community throughout the club,” said Dillon Maples, League of Legends Coach and Personal Relations for the club. “Honestly, everyone in the club is cordial with each other so I haven’t had to step in [as PR] very much at all.” 

Maples expressed how much he values the club and how he enjoys being a part of a group like this.

“College wouldn’t be half as enjoyable if I wasn’t in the club,” Maples said. 

This club means a lot to its members. Unlike other sports groups, epsports is more of a brotherhood, where a group of friends get together to play video games.  

The time and commitment put into this club has taken them a long way since they started. As Esports plow through their competition, viewership and participation are increasing. But, one thing that remains consistent and it’s the players’ love for the game.