UO Esports gives a thumbs-up to competitive video gaming

In less than two years, the University of Oregon’s esports club has not only built a fast-growing community of gamers, its competitive teams are vying for and have won national titles as well.

Esports became an official club sport last year, and its success, both in terms of growth and competitiveness, has already exceeded expectations for one of the key people behind the team.

“Once we started, it just grew and grew and grew,” said UO Esports President David Gugliotti, who is working toward an MBA in sports business marketing.

The esports club is more than just sitting in front of a monitor. Camaraderie is a huge part of the experience, along with chances for resume-building and networking that Gugliotti has built into the team. Roughly 250 people are associated with the club, with more than 200 students taking part in the casual group called the Gaming Club and another 45 on competitive squads that go against schools across the nation.

A small campus group that focused on the game “League of Legends” had already been in place when Gugliotti arrived on campus in 2017, but he sensed the potential for something bigger.

“People were already competing; a lot of game producers host their own collegiate leagues,” Gugliotti said. So he and UO Esports Vice President Tanner Peterson organized a meeting to gauge interest. “Once we saw how many people wanted to compete in all these different titles, it was like, this is an easy decision.”

Since then the team has continued to grow as word has spread.

The competitive teams have tryouts early in the school year, with captains and varsity and junior varsitylike teams of different abilities. They play games such as “Hearthstone,” “League of Legends,” “Call of Duty,” “Fortnight,” “Apex,” “Rocket League” and “Overwatch.” Anyone can propose adding a new game if there is a collegiate tournament or league to compete in and someone is willing to lead it.

Once the seasons are underway, captains organize rosters and practices, and plan scrimmages. Team members gather to watch “film” of previous games to look for ways to improve, similar to how a football or basketball team operates, Gugliotti notes.

Players most often compete from their dorms or apartments, although the team has traveled to Boise and Los Angeles, for example, for larger tournaments.

So far the team’s “Hearthstone” squad has had the most success and has generated the most buzz.

“Hearthstone” is a strategy-based, cardlike game, and the team is made up of Sam Shoults, August Harrison and Noah Jessup-Varnum. They won a 50-team tournament to advance to the final four of the ESPN Collegiate Esports Championships in Houston on May 11, which will be broadcast on one of ESPN’s networks.

“We went from not expecting to do anything to winning the championship,” Shoults said.

UO gamers during a tournament

Earlier this year, the trio also earned a bid to a tournament in Las Vegas this summer where they’ll compete against professionals in the biggest competition of its kind in North America.

And the team is getting broad attention. One tournament final they competed in was livestreamed with nearly 20,000 viewers who saw the Ducks proudly wearing their customized UO Esports team jerseys.

The organization gives students experience they can put on their resumes, as well.

Gugliotti has his sights set on working in esports industry, which was part of his impetus for helping launch and run the team. The organizational and entrepreneurial skills he’s developing are useful, and the team serves as an excellent platform for him and others to develop connections within the industry.

A team trip to watch a tournament in Los Angeles earlier this year gave team members a chance to connect with several people who work in esports, including former James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center executive-in-residence David Higdon, who now works at the gaming company Riot Games.

“We’ve built career initiatives into what we’re doing,” Gugliotti said, noting one student who wants to do graphic design has produced art for the team that she uses in her portfolio.

Shoults, a junior business major, wants to work on the business side of sports. As a team captain and officer in the club, he’s also been networking and gaining hands-on experience that pumps up a resume.

Right now, the team is looking for students who can do play-by-play announcing of the team’s contests, perfect for a student who wants to follow in the footsteps of famous Duck alum Jordan Kent, who covers esports contests along with other sports.

The club complements numerous opportunities on campus to study gaming, from courses in computer and information science, which has several alumni working in the industry, to multiple faculty members teaching gaming-related courses in the School of Journalism and Communication to sports business courses in the Lundquist College of Business.

The bottom line for everyone in the club is camaraderie, something most people might not associate with video gaming.

“Ever since I started attending meetings I've gone from not knowing anyone to making a lot of great friends,” Shoults said. “The fact that everyone has a common passion and interest makes it really easy to connect with one another, and it is just a great environment to be in.”

The club has received help from the Club Sports office, as well as Kathie Stanley, the team’s faculty adviser, and Kevin Marbury, the UO’s vice president for student life, who have helped connect the team with the right people on campus to help the team grow.

The club will be holding a LAN event at 11 a.m. May 11 in the Erb Memorial Union’s Crater Lake Room open to all. Attendees are invited to bring their own computers to take part in games that will be on hand and vie for prizes. A watch party for the “Hearthstone” team’s final four contest will be organized if the timing works out.

For more information, contact the team via Twitter at @uoesports or the Discord app at discord.gg/uoesports. Most of the team’s games are broadcast on Twitch.tv/UniversityofOregon.

As for Gugliotti, it’s already been a fun and gratifying experience.

“It’s really exciting to be part of because of how new it is, and how all these different pieces are starting coming together to form a successful and legitimate program.”

By Jim Murez, University Communications