Richard Gibson / Sports Director
The future of the sports market in the US and across the world is becoming more diverse as more athletes step into the market. At one point, the sports scene in America was as narrow as football, baseball, and basketball.
But now, there’s more variety in what to watch and even what to participate in. Soccer, hockey, and women’s athletics are becoming just as mainstream as what has already been in the spotlight for sports, but a new breed of digital sports has begun to make its way into major sports networks, streaming services, and Florida International University.
The Panther Esports program is relatively new to the university, being formed in 2018. However, it’s only grown in popularity as it’s accepted more and more members. It welcomes gamers of all backgrounds and all skill levels, whether they’re finally learning how to play competitively in their favorite team-based game, or are seasoned veterans who are looking for a new challenge.
Jason Grioua has been a member of the esports team for over a year now, and has mainly competed in their Overwatch division. He’s also a part of their social media staff and has helped to plan tournaments for students to participate in.
“It’s been an absolute blast,” said Jason in an interview with PantherNOW. “Being able to play a game that I absolutely love with a team I love to be around. I’d like to say we have a great team here.”
Panther Esports has a wide range of video games that they support, with almost all of them being team-based first-person shooters, online battle arenas or battle royales, such as Overwatch, Counter-Strike, League of Legends, or Fortnite. They also support one-on-one fighting games, such as Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros.
“So we have two Overwatch teams,” said Jason. “We spent one or two days practicing each week during the Spring term. We would do “scrims”, in which both teams battle each other competitively and see what’s our strengths and weaknesses and which characters we’re really good at.”
The program has a brand new gaming room located in the Graham Center that they’ve been using this summer semester. They’ve already hosted two tournaments there, including a Rocket League tournament in April, and a Valorant tournament in June.
“I’ve seen it in person,” said Jason. “The computers are high end hardware with high refresh rate monitors, perfect for competitive eSports gaming. It’s really good that we’re finally able to open it up.”
Panther Esports has an office at the Wellness & Recreation Center for those who are interested in joining the team. They also have a Discord server in which anyone can join, as well as a Twitch channel that they use to broadcast some of their tournaments. They have official tryouts every semester for students to showcase their skills.
Members of the esports program face off against teammates or even other colleges in competitions, similar to the schedules of other sports such as football and basketball. They’re given FIU themed uniforms, a gaming room to train in, and even set up events of their own to host tournaments for FIU students, or welcome in new recruits.
Panther Esports has custom mouse pads, custom gaming chairs, and even custom skins in some online games. Photo by Holden Caufield
Video games have become a staple pastime of old and young, male or female, and casual or competitive. Whether you own an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, or a gaming PC, there will always be thousands of games to play, and new releases will always be right around the corner.
“I think a big part of the success of esports as of late is the availability of it during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you tuned in to ESPN, you didn’t see the NBA. Instead, you saw NBA2K, the video game version of it. Because these games have online functionality, we can play wherever we want with others.”
The success of esports in the United States alone is best established by the profit the sport brings. In 2019 alone, Forbes estimated that esports drove in over a billion dollars in revenue through athlete sponsorships, player participation and viewership through national television or live streaming.
In 2019, there was also an estimated 433 million viewers of some of video games biggest tournaments, such as the Fortnite World Cup, Overwatch League Finals, and EVO, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world. These matches were broadcasted on networks such as ESPN, but can also be seen on Twitch or Youtube.
Esports is also inclusive for athletes of all genders and backgrounds, as the skill gap between players is determined by their knowledge of the game and their success with a controller, rather than anything else.
“Many schools are beginning to welcome esports to their list of sports for students to take part in, and I think it’s important for them to be active in a community that a lot of people are passionate about.”
It’s also driven by casual player interest through some of the biggest content creators in the world on Youtube or Twitch, actively playing the most popular games in the market right now like Call of Duty: Warzone, Apex Legends, and Splitgate.
Some games make it easy for casual or veteran players to get involved in the esports scene, through weekly or even daily online tournaments that players can immediately join, or a ranked system that puts them facing off against the best players in the world. Some notable games that do this are Rocket League, Fortnite, and Apex Legends.
There’s active money to be made if you’re a successful esports player. When Kyle Giersdorf (Known on Twitch as Bugha) took home first place in the Fortnite World Cup in 2019, he walked away with $3 million dollars and has become synonymous with Fortnite to the point where he himself is now a skin that you can play as in the game.
“Esports is in a league of its own,” said Jason. “It accomplished things that very few physical sports could do. It’s getting harder to ignore esports because of its new recognition. So for those who want to discredit it, I have to ask: If you were interested in sports during Summer 2020, what did you watch? Old archives, or the thing you were discrediting?”
As mentioned earlier, students who are interested in joining Panther Esports can do so by visiting their headquarters in the Wellness and Recreation Center, as they host tryouts every semester.