Community bonds over video games

by Louis Fernandez

Competitive video game playing, or eSports, is growing all over the country. An organization on Carolina’s campus, UNC eSports, has been growing too. The club’s Facebook page now has over 700 members. The organization welcomes gamers of all kinds from casual to competitive. It’s not just a few people getting together to play, but a community who share something in common: the games they love.

Photo by Louis Fernandez)
As video games have become more popular, UNC eSports has evolved into a diverse community students. (Photo by Louis Fernandez)

Sitterson Hall is normally the home of computer science classes, but not on this day. What you’ll hear is the sound of tires screeching, swords clashing and creatures roaring.

It’s the 2014 Fall Gamefest hosted by UNC eSports, a local video game community.

All kinds of games are available. In one room, you’ll hear buttons being hit as a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament begins.

You can walk past a group falling off of Rainbow road in Mario Kart Wii U.

Then, of course, there’s the most popular event: the League of Legends tournament, where prizes are won and relationships are ruined.

This year, the event was organized by UNC eSports President Danny Cao.

“We get students from across the state to come in and play video games and celebrate eSports essentially,” Cao said.

The past two Gamefests have had around 400 to 500 people attend. Just to play video games.

UNC Charlotte student Briana Wiblitzhouser had one game in mind.

“I’m here mostly for Pokémon,” Wiblitzhouser said.

It’s not just the game though. There’s a real sense of community and belonging. NC State student Spencer Jacobs felt comfortable at the Gamefest.

“It’s nice to be in an environment where you don’t feel judged and you can be yourself and just be nerdy,” Jacobs said.

Wiblitzhouser feels the same.

“These are my people, you know?” Wiblitzhouser said. “I come to hang out and talk about nerdy things that most people don’t like to talk about.”

And there’s plenty to talk about. When I asked Wiblitzhouser what Pokémon Mega Evolution she was looking forward to the most, she replied Mega Sharpedo.

“His attack stat will, excuse the expression, blow everyone out of the water,” Wiblitzhouser said.

There’s also an opportunity to learn. Paul Goodman from Escapist Magazine and Mai’dah Lashani, a legal intern at Epic Games, led a discussion among students about different aspects of the video game profession. Lashani says gaming is going to a whole other level.

“I’m mainly thinking about the League of Legends tournament,” Lashani said. “Isn’t there a prize of a million dollars now? It’s basically like the NFL or something like that, but for video games, and the fact that there is that much money kind of says that that is as any people that are interested in it.”

While checking in new arrivals, Cao reflects on the community he has helped build at Carolina.

“In the past, you were just playing with yourself, playing with your friends in the room,” Cao said. “That’s kind of what this is, just playing with your friends, but on a larger scale.”

“That’s what the whole point of this is: to interweave the pockets of people that play together to become one as a community. We like to encourage people to kind of just play with new people and to meet new people at these kinds of events.”

Lashani says that this growth really doesn’t surprise her.

“I feel like video games are a natural next step in entertainment. Interactive entertainment is what they are, and I think we’re coming to a place where everyone will be a gamer eventually, and I’m excited for that day.”

If that day comes, members of UNC eSports will be ready, controller in hand, to play.

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