Samuel Marrero remembers trading a single controller back and forth to play his favorite video game, “BattleTanx,” with his father’s N64 gaming console at 4 years old.
The 21-year-old UF computer science senior, whose gamer tag is now “dadjorts,” traded the controller for his computer and played over 3,000 hours of “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” a PC first-person shooter game; he reached its highest rank, Global Elite, in 2017 at 16 years old.
“I’ve been a lifelong gamer,” Marrero said. “I’ve always been gaming.”
Marrero leads other students in every major competitive collegiate esports scene — “CS:GO,” “Valorant,” “Overwatch,” “League of Legends,” “Rocket League” and “Fortnite” — as The Gator Esports’ community coordinator. The competitive video gaming club is made entirely of UF students who compete against other collegiate teams in tournaments across the country — all from their bedrooms.
Gator Esports won't receive any funding from Student Government until Spring. The club is on track to becoming a sports club, which would entitle it to additional funding.
The Gator Esports discord channel has over 450 members and hosted the “Touch Grass” food drive June 11. The club’s board emphasizes the importance of serving the community that supports them, Kelli Snellman, Gator Esports’ president, said.
The players, she said, are students first and players second; tournaments often require player transcripts to confirm they are in good standing with their schools.
Nick “Strawberry” Strawser said he treats esports more like a hobby; most of his courses are online, so it makes it easier to play in between classes. The 21-year-old UF computer engineering senior played over 3,600 hours of “Rocket League” since 2017 — about 150 days of playtime. He now plays the game, which allows gamers to play soccer as rocket-powered cars, at its highest rank for Gator Esports.
Last February, Strawser’s team ranked No. 11 in the Collegiate “Rocket League” Last Chance qualifier tournament, which earned them $1,600 out of a $45,000 prize pool.
Collegiate esports is like any other UF sport, he said, and fellow Gator Esports player Dang “Fyrat” Hoang agreed.
“During the on-season, we just kind of live and breathe this game,” Hoang, who plays “League of Legends,” said.
Hoang’s teammates play six to eight hours a day during the Fall and Spring semesters. He said there’s a stigma against competitive video games, but he disagrees that esports is just a game and said it’s about people, not just the competition.
“I saw that we really had a lack of a centralized eSports club at the University of Florida,” Lucas Silva, the inaugural president of Gator Esports said. His friends back home in Broward County, he said, ended up leading the successful esports program at UCF. It inspired him to bring it to UF as well.
He started a “CS:GO” team in Spring 2021 then reached out to decentralized existing esports teams already on campus to bring them together under one name in Spring 2022.
“If we’re not going to be provided the infrastructure that we want to see, we should just make it,” Silva said.
Just like collegiate sports teams, some collegiate esports programs offer scholarships to incentivize talented players to attend their schools.
The Gator Esports “Overwatch” team reached the top 25 in the “Overwatch” Collegiate Championship in 2022 and placed 10th in 2021. The first place prize for the tournament, organized by Blizzard Entertainment, is $24,000.
The better the esports program, 20-year-old UF industrial and systems engineering junior and “Overwatch” player Anlanh “Shun” Nguyen, said, the more interested students will be.
“We’re just a group of guys that get together on our own time without any assistance from the university,” he said. “We managed to pull off some surprising results.”
Contact Sandra McDonald at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald
Sandra McDonald is a third-year journalism major and the Student Government reporter for the University Desk. This is her first semester at the Alligator. When she's not reporting, she's probably reading fantasy novels and listening to Taylor Swift.