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UNT finds success with new Esports team


Madi Olivier

College senior Robert Martinez practices “Overwatch”. He played in a gaming club at UNT before trying out for the Esports team.

UNT became the first public university with a varsity Esports team last Feb., and on Oct. 1, they won their first tournament —OPLive Dallas — 3-0. The program supports four games— Overwatch, Hearthstone, League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. The Esports coordinator Dylan Wray was impressed with the team’s performance at the competition.

“We actually took the whole thing, which was really fun and kind of a good morale boost for the players as well,” Wray said.

In addition to bringing in scholarship money from winning competitions, the Esports team also provides players with an opportunity to meet other students interested in video games.

Hearthstone player Gabino Bencomo has built close friendships through the program.

“To be around people going ‘yeah, I like video games too,’ it’s just a little bit heartwarming,” Bencomo said.

The program has been in the making for two years. UNT has had many gaming clubs for years, which caught the attention of University President Neal Smatresk. He made a proposal of the idea, which ultimately led to the start of the program.

“I think that there’s just a long history of talented students here at UNT. I think that’s a huge component of it, in a very competitive and in a very vibrant club scene in the past,” Wray said.

Now that the idea of an Esports team is a reality, the players practice for three hours on Thursday and Friday. For the first hour, the players discuss their strategies and watch video replays of the team they play next. For the rest of the time the players scrimmage against other universities.

“In the case of Overwatch, they continuously play against semi professional teams because they’re that good,” Wray said.

The teams meet in a gaming room called The Nest for practice, which was added to campus a little more than a year and a half ago. The $200,000 facility contains 15 Alienware gaming PCs, chairs and tables of the newest technology.

“It’s some of the top gaming things that a guy can ask for,” Bencomo said.

The equipment is open to the use of all students, although it’s closed when the Esports team has practice. Wray believes that having an official place where the players can collaborate face-to-face has improved the success of the program.

“What I like about using this space is that it creates that kind of home base for all of the students to have and rally around,” Wray said.

The Esports program provides a service to students, according to Wray. He believes that it’s a new way for students to express themselves and find pride for UNT outside of the more well known activities such as football.

“This allows a new generation to find pride and passion in our university,” Wray said.

The players agree that Esports is a way to find their place at UNT. Hearthstone player Evan Martinez also says the program allows him to leave the worries of college behind and enjoy himself.

“College is very stressful because you have a lot of deadlines, you’re living on your own, you have bills to pay, you’ve got so much to do,” Martinez said. “Just to come in here, where all you have to do is play a game and just have fun, it’s a nice stress reliever.”

Some players believe that there is still a negative stigma around video games, especially from older generations. According to Bencomo, when most people hear that he plays video games, their minds begin categorizing him as nerdy or wasting time. However, he believes that Esports provide a good way for gamers to form a community.

“People feel ostracised about it, now they have a place to call home,” Bencomo said.

Esports has been gaining popularity in the college scene. More and more colleges are adopting teams and competing. As of mid-October there were 88 colleges in America with Esports teams. There is even a National Collegiate Esports Association. The Esports scene is growing beyond colleges as well. A video gaming arena is being built in the Arlington Convention Center.

Disney, ESPN and ABC have begun broadcasting Overwatch League games. Players are excited about the future of Esports and hope that one day people will stop watching Netflix for a few minutes to view a tournament. Overwatch player Robert Martinez is especially enthusiastic about the increased popularity of Esports.

“It’s the future,” Martinez said. “This is what they will have on TV.”