Even though Rice’s eSports Club began the year before junior computer scientist Eduard Danalache came to campus, he has spent three years making the group more vibrant, gathering sponsorship from companies, and organizing fun events for the club members.
“eSports is a great way to get students involved in the greater gaming community,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of students on campus have played some sort of video game. Gaming is a great way to foster community and a collegial atmosphere.”
eSports refers to competitive online gaming, in which teams get together to play video games against other teams from around the world. Professional gamers play as many as 10 to 12 hours a day, competing for lucrative prizes. Gaming enthusiasts often fill massive arenas to watch their favorite eSports teams.
Rice’s eSports Club boasts 300 members on its Facebook page, but Danalache said that about 60-100 members regularly attend events, which include championship watch parties, gaming sessions, and career events. The club fundraises to cover their costs, so members can enjoy their time at the events for free. While the club has multiple teams for myriad games, the most popular by far is League of Legends.
For Danalache, spearheading the group has been a lesson in organization and leadership. He said he’s learned about planning events and making sure all the logistics work: getting sponsors, making sure people come, working with various Rice offices to secure rooms and ensure that proper procedures are followed. He also said that gaming itself provides a valuable lesson about teamwork and communication, and a link to engineering.
“When you play on a team of four or five people, you learn what people’s strengths are. It’s just like being on a group project in the classroom.”
Danalache said that eSports is rapidly becoming an important component of 21st century entertainment.
Paul DeCarlo, a senior Microsoft software engineer, said about the gaming phenomenon, "eSports is one of the fastest growing entertainment genres and is on the rise to becoming a first-class global sporting franchise. Now more than ever we see investment from enterprises on the side of tech and sports coming together to create something the world has been expecting for quite some time."
That is what excites Danalache about the club. He sees eSports as a way to build community and to embrace technology that allows for players around the world to connect and game with each other.
“This year, more people watched the League of Legends World Championship than watched the Super Bowl,” said Danalache. “The sheer reach is bigger than some conventional sports.”
Going forward, In the future, he wants Rice’s eSports Club to not only be self-sustaining, but to be a place where students can connect with and mentor each other, both through playing games and solving problems together.
“We definitely want to host more events and build partnerships with companies in Houston that have a built-in interest in the genre,” he said. “Our long-term goal is to build a gaming lounge on campus, similar to those found at other universities across the country, where all students can hang out and have access to state-of-the-art technology.”
This November the club hosted back-to-back watch parties for the world finals of League of Legends and Overwatch, two of the most popular games. The League of Legends watch party began at 1:30 a.m., and more than 100 students attended.
“It was amazing to see such a turnout for an event that early in the morning. Luckily the best-of-five series ended rather quickly, so we were all able to get some sleep before coming back at noon for the Overwatch finals,” Danalache said. “I look forward to next semester, when we’ll be competing against other schools in Collegiate League of Legends and Overwatch tournaments. We’re also going to host intramural eSports tournaments, where students can represent their residential colleges and compete against their friends.”
The first campus-wide tournament next semester will be an Omegathon, in which students play games from any platform in a single-elimination live tournament. The winning college will receive the first-ever Rice eSports Trophy, to be held until the following year’s competition. The event will be open to any undergraduate or graduate student.