E-Sports Competitors from Las Vegas Share Their Experiences in Competitive Gaming
Video games are designed as a hobby to pass the time and provide an escape from the real world. However, video games are more than that for professional players; for them, playing games is a passion. These players work hard to become the best in their favorite games and, recently, bigger opportunities have further stoked the competitive fire these people possess.
Over the last few years, e-sports and competitive gaming have evolved into an international enterprise attracting millions of people worldwide. Different games from different genres have dedicated leagues and tournaments, and top e-sports players have the chance to land huge cash prizes and brand endorsements. Las Vegas has become one of the United States’ hubs for e-sports, and UNLV has experienced this firsthand.
“There are two types of gamers,” said Julian Lugod, the team manager of the Runnin’ Reinhardts, UNLV’s collegiate team for the popular multiplayer shooter game Overwatch. “[There are] those that play story mode, and those that play competitively.”
In 2016, 8-Bit, UNLV’s e-sports club, wanted to start up an Overwatch club. Lugod would end up managing the team, transitioning over from another big e-sports game in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game League of Legends. The Runnin’ Reinhardts functions as a sports club, travelling to different locations in order to compete in collegiate Overwatch matches.
“Scholarships are probably the biggest goal,” Lugod said. He mentioned that this is because schools with bigger Overwatch clubs such as the University of California-Irvine, Harrisburg University and Maryville University in St. Louis give scholarships to players in order for them to play for their programs. Lugod also hopes for the team to travel to compete in bigger collegiate e-sports tournaments.
The Runnin’ Reinhardts and 8-Bit have been able to develop a decent following so far. This is exemplified in UNLV Night at the Luxor’s HyperX E-Sports Arena, where people can watch UNLV teams compete against other collegiate teams in different games. The event occurs monthly and usually attracts around a hundred people each time.
Attracting decent crowds should not come as much of a surprise, though. E-sports events are viewed by an estimated 380 million people, bringing in revenue that is estimated to be over $1 billion. An example of these numbers is the 2017 League of Legends World Championship in Beijing. The event drew over 80 million viewers, as well as generating $5.5 million in ticket sales.
Las Vegas has embraced the clear potential of e-sports as both an economic and tourist attraction. Over the last few years, Las Vegas has been home to several e-sports tournaments, invested in the HyperX E-Sports Arena, and has a dedicated e-sports lounge at Topgolf by the MGM Grand. The city has also legalized betting on e-sports events, an industry that is expected to make $1.5 billion by the next decade.
This newfound attention for e-sports will only help the Las Vegas scene, Lugod said. Las Vegas is still a grassroots function in regards to e-sports, but the new focus on it will help expand a tight-knit community.
Antonio Johnston-Schock, a senior at UNLV, is currently the No. 2 ranked player in Las Vegas for the fighting game Super Smash Bros. He said that exposure to e-sports is critical, as it will only help exposure to local scenes. As the spotlight on e-sports grows, so will the community.
Johnston-Schock had been watching Super Smash Bros tournaments since 2016, but it was not until he came to UNLV that he was able to participate. Even now, he is trying to juggle school, work, and competitive gaming.
“It’s nothing but discipline,” Johnston-Schock said about being able to prioritize his life as a student and competitive gamer. “That’s what I feel most proud of.”
Johnston-Schock has been able to enjoy several opportunities in e-sports. Last year, he participated in EVO, an e-sports event that holds multiple fighting game tournaments in Las Vegas. He has plans to participate in EVO again this year. He also competed at Genesis 7 in Oakland in January, and plans to go to Denver and Houston to compete in tournaments there. Johnston-Schock said these tournaments outside of Las Vegas help him get better, as well as build his relationships.
“What deters people most is losing,” Johnston-Schock says for people who want to get into e-sports in some capacity. “My advice is to directly combat this.”
Johnston-Schock mentions that e-sports is an investment that takes a good amount of time. The fear of losing is what serves as a barrier to people joining. If the focus is shifted more towards personal growth and being part of a community, according to Johnston-Schock, the experience is more enjoyable.
Johnston-Schock points to his own experience as proof that this way of thinking is correct. When he started out, he admitted that he did not feel fully integrated into the community, often showing up only to compete in the tournaments. However, that changed when he went to Smash Fest, a now-defunct congregation of Smash players who got together to play casually. It was there that he began to have meaningful conversations with other players, leading him to feel as though he was becoming part of the larger Smash Bros community.