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New ESports pilot program hopes to elevate UNF’s gaming presence

John Watson, Sports Editor

Featured Image: Kerkez | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Years ago, many would have thought that ESports was just another fad that would die out like silly bands in middle school. As the pandemic forced millions of students to be glued to their computers for hours on end, a few students and faculty members at UNF took advantage of this to start an ESports program that looks to set the foundation for years to come.

With new technology emerging in recent years to make things faster and more efficient, there has never been a better time to sit down with your friends and compete against each other online. When these students couldn’t interact with each other face to face, they were able to play a game called “Valorant” together and communicate while having fun conversations.

“Valorant,” a five-on-five game where one team attacks and the other team defends. The game is based around the same premise that CS:GO’s search and destroy game mode is. The game is played on different maps, and users can use various “Agents” who all have different abilities. Each match lasts 25 rounds, and the first to 13 round wins is the match-winner. 

Riot Games’ Valorant is a free-to-play game that brings in elements from games such as CS:GO, Overwatch and Apex Legends (PlayValorant.com)

With the game being released at the height of the pandemic in June of 2020, it became popular as members of the team have described it as the successor to CS:GO. Much like the success of “Fortnite” and “Apex Legends,” players quickly caught on to the game’s mechanics, and competition has been fierce ever since.

In the developing stages of the pilot program, the team had a few games in mind like “Rocket League,” “Overwatch,” and “League of Legends.” With “Valorant” being the latest ESport to catch fire quickly, this was the perfect game to start a program with.

The team saw this as a right place, right time opportunity, and with the collegiate circuit being formed quickly, there was interest at UNF to take things seriously and begin the process of becoming the first varsity ESport on campus. The team then took on some of the best talents in the country and held their own.

Playing in the Conference One organization (CF1), the team worked over the past spring semester to qualify for the CF1 Regional Championships. At regionals, they beat out teams such as Penn State, and competed against Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and other established programs.

All of these games were streamed on the streaming platform Twitch and UNF’s surprising opening performance was well received by hundreds of spectators and the game commentators.

“The commentators were like, wow, you know, this UNF team is really holding their own. They’re not playing like a brand new team on the circuit,” Club coordinator and UNF staff member Daniel Choisser said. “These are guys you’re gonna need to watch out for. I think that shows the level of talent we have here at UNF, and I think it’s just the beginning.”

Take a look at their match against Virginia Tech:

Choisser and another staff member, Jariss George, are the two main guys behind the scenes coordinating practice times, scheduling tournaments and so forth. They are both working in IT at the university and have experience with video games.

For both of them, bringing ESports to campus is one of the things that they think UNF needs to jump on sooner rather than later. ESports has grown tremendously in the last few years, and data has shown that it will only keep going up. The ability to stream these games has also attracted a viewership that rivals those of cable channels. 

According to Hallandpartners.com, Twitch has approximately 5 million active viewers who spend 106 minutes each day watching live gaming, which ranks higher than prime-time cable TV networks like CNN.

With the rise, Choisser and George think that this growth will only benefit students interested in non-traditional team sports. While this is a relatively new idea and differs from traditional ball and stick sporting events, they hope to introduce this new concept to people who don’t see the same benefits.

“We’re prioritizing and finding ways to show administration, more specifically, older administration, that Esports is not just games,” George said. “It’s not, there’s a lot of opportunities that come from it. Even students who are interested in the actual games themselves, you know — journalism students, production students, health students and all that stuff. It is an entire field in a very popular and financially blooming field, and I think trying to properly articulate that and show that to the administration so that way they can understand that this is something they need to jump on board now versus later and get ahead of the game.”

For the students, it’s an opportunity to be social and have fun with their peers in a competitive environment. While this seems great, there are more opportunities than meets the eye.

With the UNF game room usually being used for competition and practices, the team was in the middle of a pandemic and were able to communicate using ZOOM and Discord.

Currently, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) has 151 member schools with varsity esports programs. With these programs and competitions come scholarships for the students, and playing their favorite video games can set them up for success after college.

I talked with a few team members on their chatting service of choice, Discord, where they communicate with each other in online games and where announcements are made. One of the big things they talked about was that through the pandemic, they were able to all come together online and feel like they’re in the same room together.

“It was all easier for us as the sports scene because everything is done online,” UNF Valorant ESports Officer Matthew Ned said. “The only real setbacks we had were like if people’s availability  weren’t that great.”

The team is optimistic that ESports will continue to grow in the near future as viewership continues to go up and players continue to keep getting better. They believe that by bringing a varsity ESport with “Valorant” to campus, they will sit alongside the athletics program and bring eyes to UNF through a different lens.

For people who are skeptical about ESports and the future, they have some words to say.

“I would say for the people that are skeptical about it to come and watch one of those streams,” UNF Valorant team member Benjamin Bacon said. “You can see how dedicated people are from just watching one of those streams where we’re playing and how close it gets and how fun it is to watch. Like it’s just like any other sport where there are really tense moments, and it’s fun to root for a team.”

While this team is still young, they’ve been holding their own as a pilot program, hoping to become the first varsity ESport to come to UNF’s campus. The future seems bright for these gamers as opportunities arrive and ESports emerge from the shadows of graphics cards.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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