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Consoles, Competition & Community: The Esports Revolution

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate plays on one of the gaming setups on stage in the gaming auditorium on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at The Cornerstone in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amber Ritschel

Esports, a competitive way for people to play video games, has come a long way in recent years and is gaining popularity on the University of Kentucky campus.

The perfect example of this is the opening of UK's new state-of-the-art facility, The Cornerstone, boasting new monitors, multiple gaming rooms and a cafeteria. With advances like these, esports now has many more followers on campus and teams that compete in different video game leagues with other schools across the nation.

“My roommate and I got into esports as freshmen when it was a really small community,” Matt Curry, captain of the Rocket League, said.

UK Esports has been able to take major steps forward by partnering with Gen.G, a professional esports organization.

Having Gen.G working with UK allows for exposure, and the ability to work with professionals is a unique opportunity for students in college with a gaming passion. Curry was very appreciative of Gen.G’s impact on UK and how it will help students improve the future of esports.

“It’s been really cool to see that after we partnered with Gen.G that we’ve had articles written about us,” Curry said. “We were starting to get more exposure and people around campus were starting to understand what esports were and the impact of video games in general … It’s really exciting to see how it’s shifted the narrative from competitive to anyone that has interest in video games.”

The brand-new esports facility, on the corner of South Upper and Winslow streets, boasts amenities where the esports team can practice and enjoy new equipment like dozens of monitors and flat screen TVs. Specific team rooms allow members to practice before a match.

An RGB keyboard lights up at one of the 50 PC gaming stations in The Cornerstone on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amber Ritschel

Students can also play video games with friends and take some time off schoolwork to see what the place has to offer. However, since Feb. 22, students have had to pay a small fee per hour if they wanted to play video games. Still, Curry is still grateful for UK’s support.

“It really highlights the commitment that UK has made to esports and the future because they’re really funding this state-of-the-art facility for students and others to use as a public space to have access to the kind of equipment needed to play esports,” Curry said.

There are a variety of teams for different video games that compete for the overall UK Esports team. Students are allowed to select video games and participate on that specific team, and all teams operate under the UK Esports team.

Curry mentioned that his Rocket League team recently qualified for the playoffs in the Collegiate StarLeague (CSL). Along with Rocket League, there are teams for Valorant, League of Legends and many other competitive games. Multiple video game teams participate in a variety of leagues throughout the semester. These leagues are getting to be quite competitive with the participation of other universities.

A student shows off the custom UK Esports mask that can often be seen in The Cornerstone on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amber Ritschel

While COVID-19 has proven to be a tough situation for many organizations around campus, the esports facility at UK has been able to maneuver the pandemic without many hiccups. The University has made sure to follow COVID-19 guidelines while keeping the facility open to students.

Cameron Jackson, the coordinator for the esports team and the president of SmashCats, the UK Super Smash Bros. team, said UK Esports is taking many different steps to keep students safe.

“We hosted a Super Smash Bros. event in here about two weeks ago and it went really well,” he said. “Everyone stayed apart … We had about 10 setups, two people to a setup, and everyone else was spread out until they were ready. If you weren’t part of the event, we had to put you out, which was probably the biggest disappointment, but it’s just what we had to do.”

Everyone is required to wear masks in the esports facility, whether it be in the gaming arena or in one of the two game rooms that they have. As long as people are following social distancing, the staff allows for a safe and fun experience that everyone is able to enjoy.

A student focuses while playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at The Cornerstone on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amber Ritschel

Spencer Combs, a junior on the Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) team, is optimistic about the growth of esports at the university and in the future.

“I’m extremely hopeful that this foundation at UK can further college esports,” Combs said. “I think where we are now regarding esports is a good place to be, so that we can also improve in coming years.”

The UK Esports team has shown how gaming can be successful at the collegiate level and the future holds multiple possibilities for the growth of esports not only at UK but across the country at many universities.

“Whether it be an escape for students from their coursework, or if they were going through hard times, esports proves to be an outlet and can help students get away from the stress of school,” Curry said.


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