The UH Esports program provides students with opportunities to compete in tournaments and learn about the intricacies of the video games industry. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Nguyuen)
By Cameron Enomoto | Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: The UH Esports team won the title for the best collegiate program in the nation at Esports Awards on December 13.
The UH Esports program began in 2019 and is recognized for winning the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Rampage Invitational Tournament in August 2022 and ranked among the top four in the nation for “Valorant.” The program was nominated for the best collegiate esports program of the year, and the “League of Legends” team earned a runner-up finish in the Mountain West division in 2022.
While the results of the teams have been among the best in the nation, the focus on the competition itself is minimal.
“My goal is not necessarily to be a championship program,” said Sky Kauweloa, the UH Esports director. “I want to create a program where students are engaging with the larger video game industry. Often esports is a huge part of that. It’s an industry that many students want to go into.”
Kauweloa, who earned a PhD in Communication and Information Sciences from UH Mānoa in Spring 2022, has been nominated for the collegiate Esports Ambassador of the Year through the Esports Awards. His work as the head of the UH Mānoa Esports Task Force in the College of Social Sciences has helped to program to become one of the top 10 programs in the country since it was established.
“I want to offer a competitive cycle but also ensure that the more casual side of the program feels inclusive,” Kauweloa said. “We have different activities that students can take part in that are not solely focused on the competitive sphere, like [roleplay games] Genshin Impact.”
The UH esports teams are modeled after a traditional varsity program. Students will register for tryouts in different games and are notified if they are accepted. The competitive varsity games include “Valorant,” “Overwatch,” “League of Legends,” “APEX Legends,” “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege,” “Super Smash Bros.,” “Call of Duty,” and “Rocket League.” Students are able to receive coaching to improve their skills as well as participate in various circuits and leagues. On the competitive side, there are around 70 students on varsity teams, though the broader esports community at UH Mānoa has over 1,000 students on Discord.
“We find another team to practice against online and play from our own computers at home,” said Ethan Nguyuen, a student on the “Overwatch” team. “Practices are usually about 2 hours long, and we have them 5 days a week.”
Nguyuen is a third-year at UH Mānoa who has been on the “Overwatch” team since Fall 2020. He is currently majoring in Math and hopes to go into data science upon graduating.
“I think the hard part is that we’re trying our best to improve [gaming skills] but at the same time we have our classes to work on so most of us are always busy,” Nguyuen said.
Kauweloa stated that students who do not make the team after tryouts often find other means to be a part of the community through Discord.
“I want the students to get as close as possible to reaching their goals in gaming,” Kauweloa said. “If they can’t reach those heights I want them to know that there’s a larger industry behind esports that’s completely viable and exciting to take part in. My hope is that students will understand that they could have a future in this field that’s not just about competition.”
According to Kauweloa, the myth that a technical background is required in order to become a part of the video games industry is false. While a technical background may be helpful, the industry is communication-oriented and depends on people skills.
“We had eight professional ‘Overwatch’ teams come to campus and the students got to see the behind-the-scenes dynamic in which the players and managers interact,” said Kauweloa. “For instance, the South Korean-based team relied on the manager like a parent. They had to understand how to take care of a group of eight individuals and manage their concerns, needs, and worries.”
During the “Overwatch” tournament that UH Esports hosted in July 2022, some of the workers shared that they had backgrounds in the fields of immigration and law. For esports players who travel internationally, especially during Covid-19, Kauweloa stated that it became a situation where you had to be aware of the intricacies between different countries when it came to visa applications and renewals.
“For the video games industry overall, they’re looking for people who are not just about video games,” Kauweloa said. “Like life in general, when you form friendships, you’re not necessarily looking for someone who is a hardcore freak on a certain topic. You want to have diversity in thought and background. I think that those people are the ones who will become the most successful candidates in this industry.”