It's no secret that video gaming has exploded in popularity since its early days. Likewise, the Esports Club at Texas A&M University-Commerce has experienced rapid growth and success in its first semester of existence, with even more growth expected.
Esports, the general term for competitive video gaming, has found a home in higher education over the last decade, with colleges and universities big and small beginning to field competitive teams in a variety of games. A growing number of institutions officially sanction Esports programs like they do for other sports programs, such as football and basketball, with scholarships on offer to top-tier players.
The Club's Beginnings
The story of Esports at A&M-Commerce began with founding members Adam Morris, current club president, and Timothy Cooper, vice president. Morris said he and Cooper came up with the initial idea for the club in fall 2022.
“The fascinating part of this entire endeavor is the efficiency and how quick it moved along,” Morris said. “Tim is very connected on campus, and I am very connected with the Esports industry. He excels in player relations, and I have the knowledge and resources to help us in the competitive scene.”
Morris, Cooper and treasurer Ethan Waldschmidt make up the officers for the club.
Morris works professionally as an event contractor in the Esports industry while pursuing his bachelor's degree in Communication Studies at A&M-Commerce. He said the overall market value of professional Esports is estimated to hit $30 billion in 2024.
“Esports is all-inclusive; anyone can do it,” Morris said. “It can bring a lot of attention to the university, and we are already seeing some of that.”
Cooper, a senior majoring in Computer Science, had previous experience organizing monthly gaming tournaments in the Baptist Student Ministry at A&M-Commerce, which he says brought him and Morris together.
“I had interest in creating an Esports team at A&M-Commerce, but I knew it wouldn't be something I could accomplish on my own,” Cooper said. “After Adam and I met, we were able to put our expertise together and jumpstart this idea.”
Waldschmidt, a senior majoring in Computer Science, met Morris through a mutual friend. He has been instrumental in coordinating with Campus Recreation, which oversees club sports at A&M-Commerce, to organize meetings and events.
“Adam and I hit it off pretty quickly,” Waldschmidt said. “He learned about my previous experience with Esports teams. I was really glad to be a part of the early conversations surrounding Esports at A&M-Commerce and help in any way I could.
Hitting the Competitive Circuit
The club is available to all A&M-Commerce students and currently boasts nearly 100 members after just one semester. While membership is open, the club holds selective tryouts for its competitive teams.
One facet of Esports that sets it apart from other sports leagues is the variety of games that are played competitively. While major sports leagues pertain to a single sport, such as the NFL for football or the NBA for basketball, dozens of different games are played on the competitive stage. Finding a game to focus on can be a part of the challenge in forming a competitive team.
During the Fall 2023 semester, the A&M-Commerce Esports Club chose “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” as its game of choice for competitive play. Released in 2018, Smash Ultimate is the latest entry in Nintendo's crossover fighting game series that sees classic Nintendo characters from across their many franchises—as well as characters from rival game publishers such as Sega, Capcom and others—duke it out in combat. Wildly successful, the series has sold more than 70 million copies since the original entry was released in 1999.
At A&M-Commerce, the club's competitive teams are split into two squads – The Gold and Blue teams – led by team captains Bradley Pallan and Matthew Luebbert, respectively.
TAMUC's Esports club has seen plenty of early competitive success. They took home a second-place finish at a Midwestern State University Tournament in September, and most recently won the team competition at High Noon, a Smash Ultimate tournament hosted by Oklahoma State University from December 2-3.
The club has also joined the National Esports Collegiate Conference, a sanctioning body for Esports competitions at the college and university level.
The Esports Club is growing by leaps and bounds. The club has partnered with the Division of Student Affairs, Campus Recreation and the Center for Information Technology Excellence at A&M-Commerce to transform space in the Journalism Building to create a dedicated hub in the hopes of developing it into a full-fledged, scholarshipped program.
“We are expanding to a full lab with supercomputers and next-generation consoles for competition and practice,” Morris said. “It's surprising but also reassuring to see the amount of support we have gotten from the university in this endeavor in such a short time.”
He added that the club is planning to open tryouts for teams to compete in new games as well.
“The time is now to jump in,” Morris said. “Any student has the opportunity to try out, and if they can compete, we'll welcome them in.”
Cooper believes that the best is yet to come for Esports at A&M-Commerce.
“I'm really excited for the future,” Cooper said. “We're getting a lot of support from the university. We're excited to welcome even more new faces to help us build this program.
Waldschmidt echoed those sentiments, touting the buy-in from the club's members.
“Our players are so energetic and willing to do whatever they can to grow the program,” Waldschmidt said. “People like the idea that we're bringing something big and exciting to campus.”