Video game fans from Texas A&M, the local community and other universities gathered at Kyle Field's Hall of Champions on Thursday to compete and network as part of the A&M Esports student organization's first Esports Experience.
Competitors could bring their own laptops and computer systems from home, or log in to a provided computer for "free play," enjoying popular tournament-friendly games such as League of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch and NBA2K. Teams also went head-to-head in select tournaments hosted toward the end of the evening's event. Exhibitors and industry professionals were on site to visit with students and other burgeoning gamers, offering advice about the world of esports. A panel was held with some of these professionals, including recent Texas A&M graduates.
Esports isn't exactly a new creation, said panelist Chris Allison, CEO and founder of esports company GEEX. Allison headed an esports program as faculty at Southwest Baptist University, coaching the school's varsity esports team for two years. Allison recalled his own days as a college student in Florida in the early 2000s, connecting with fellow video game lovers over the first iteration of Halo. When he moved on to teach, he dove headfirst into leading esports, sacrificing much to convince administrators to take his group seriously.
"When Southwest Baptist gave the go-ahead and allotted a scholarship for me to start recruiting students, I couldn't believe that I was actually getting to bring people to college to play video games," he said.
Panel moderator Grant Haynes, recent Aggie graduate and esports sportscaster, commented that video games are able to cater to the competitive desires of people with skills outside of those relevant to athletics, providing a unique way for people to connect and grow.
"It definitely gives you a way to compete without being physically limited to what you were born with," Haynes said, "because gaming is a lot more accessible than sports are. To be out on Kyle Field [playing football], you literally have to be born with a certain body, and there's some barrier of entry to that. I feel like with video games, that's really not so."
The panelists agreed that any video game lover attending college and wanting to enter the game industry would benefit immensely by being involved in esports, competing in tournaments and volunteering at gaming conventions. Dedicated networking is absolutely crucial to success in esports, the panelists said.
"If you're really looking for the first step, go and meet people," Haynes said. "... I know a lot of you guys feel this concern about getting real jobs in the world where people want two years of experience [when] you've just graduated. How do you get that? Volunteer for shows, volunteer to be admins on Discord [an app designed for video gaming communities]. Contact the people that you want to get involved with, and let it roll from there."
Jonathan Angers, Louisiana States University's esports co-founder and current program manager at NGAGE Esports, told the audience of student gamers that he received his current position with NGAGE just by being dedicated at playing games, leading a guild on Final Fantasy.
"Back in the day I used to be a world progression leader in a Final Fantasy team," he said. "It was one of those things where leading a guild was transferable. It allowed me to become a leader in my student organization, which led to me being in my current career path. And I literally said that during my job interview, and they totally agreed with me. ... Once you start working more in esports, it doesn't stop."
Thursday's event was hosted by A&M Esports in conjunction with other Texas A&M departments wanting to support the college gamers, particularly students and faculty with Texas A&M's division of sports management.
"Without [Texas A&M] sports management, none of this today would have happened," said current A&M Esports student president Paul Ogdee. "Also, the athletics department gave us this venue for free, and [Texas A&M] marketing announced the event for us and brought in Mountain Dew as sponsor."
Ogdee said although Texas A&M's esports program does organize competitive teams with limited space for skilled and experienced players, the student organization itself welcomes beginners. The group boasts more than 600 members.
To learn more, visit www.tamuesports.com.