More than a game: eSports continues to level up

The Panther eSports lounge in the Graham Center. Photo courtesy of Will Duval | PantherNOW.

Will Duval | Sports Director

The squeak of shoes on the basketball court has been replaced by fervent mouse clicking and the tap of buttons for David Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez is the president of Panther esports and has been on the team for three years. His sports repertoire used to be a little more typical, but he joined esports during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“I was a traditional athlete and played basketball, but the pandemic forced me off the court and left me searching for another outlet of competition,” said Rodriguez. “I found the FIU esports club and some of my friends were a part of it, so I joined. “

Even though the club met entirely online during that time, gaming provided Rodriguez a new way to socialize and compete.

“Even after the pandemic ended, I fell in love with that sort of competition and being able to play the best of the best in the college world.”

Rodriguez is part of a rapidly changing world of sports and competition. Despite its relatively small start as an industry, esports has blossomed into a multibillion dollar international industry and experienced a large increase in participation in the last decade. 

Esports as an industry has seen massive growth outside of FIU and was estimated to bring in 1.73 billion dollars in market revenue in 2022. That number nearly doubles the 865 million dollars brought in during 2012.

As popularity for the sport increased, the demand for esports at the collegiate level grew and in 2018, FIU founded the Panther eSports club.

After five years as a club, they have established a presence on campus and provide a place for interested students to compete at one of the highest levels of competition.

Collegiate esports is the second highest level of competition before professional esports in the United States. Teams play in the National Association of Collegiate eSports that features 170 different programs from universities across the country.

The team accepts members of all skill levels. Located in the Graham Center, Panther eSports’ room offers a multitude of different ways to practice and compete.

Panther esports is equipped with all of the major gaming platforms, including PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and PC.

Currently, the team offers ten different games to compete in, including Valorant, League of Legends, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Overwatch 2, Rocket League, and many other titles.

Since lockdowns ended, the club has blossomed, with more and more students supporting their in-person meetings. 

“When I joined, all of it was online, all the time, so it didn’t really have that feeling of being ingrained in the physical campus,” said Rodriguez. Over the past year to year and a half or so, the student body has really embraced our club, whether it’s at the events or going to the esports lounge.”

Rodriguez said that their Valorant team was the most successful unit, winning the Furia Valorant Kickoff tournament in February of 2023.

Valorant is a free-to-play, first-person shooter game that is developed by Riot Games. Players choose a character or “agent” that each have specific skill sets to help lead their team to victory over their opponents.

He added that Rocket League was the team’s most popular game, with four different teams based on skill level – it was also what originally interested him in the club. 

“At first I joined to play Rocket League, and after that I managed and captained the Halo team,” said Rodriguez. 

Rocket League is a soccer game using cars to hit the ball into the opposing teams nets. By using power-ups, strategy and teamwork, players work together to defeat their opponents.

As a response to growing needs of the team and popularity, FIU decided to build the FIU Online Interactive Learning Arena.

The new facility will be located in SIPA II, and will feature 48 esports desktops, live audience seating for up to 60 people, a competition stage, and many more premier accommodations.

“It will also operate as a premier event space for not only Panther esports, but for students and faculty as well” said Rodriguez. As the project comes closer to its completion, more details will be provided.

Now having a solid foundation after operating for over five years, Panther eSports continues to rise in both skill and popularity.  

For those who are interested, they have a Discord server that anyone can join, and accounts on both X and Instagram. All inquiring potential members are encouraged to reach out through those platforms, as they will make all related announcements there.

For Rodriguez, the buck does not stop with gaming. 

“Obviously everyone looks at our club and sees the surface level of playing on a team. As I’ve been president, I’ve been trying to open it up to avenues beyond just being the best player in your college or the pro level,” Rodriguez said. “Opening it up to the people who are interested in the industry of esports, like the media side of it, broadcasting games, the technical aspects, event planning and organizing.”

Follow Will Duval on X at @WillDuval40

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