An e-sports invitational is coming to the University at Albany next month.
The April 18th invitational will bring nine teams – from each America East conference school — competing in a single-elimination Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament. Teams will be playing for a championship trophy and other prizes.
The 400-seat venue for the tourney is on the uptown campus. It will have a roughly 40-foot screen so spectators can watch the gaming competition live. UAlbany also recently opened an e-sports arena on its downtown campus.
UAlbany President Dr. Havidán Rodríguez plans to be at the conference cheering on UAlbany. He says the creation of UAlbany e-sports is part of his student engagement initiative.
“It kind of reflects the diversity of the university in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender,” Rodríguez said. “So the good thing about this is we’re bringing students who would probably, typically, may not be as engaged with the university community but now are coming from doing these individual games to being part of a large and growing community.”
Declining enrollment has been a financial threat for UAlbany in recent years. Rodríguez says the e-sports arena will help.
“It certainly increases and enhances the visibility of the university,” Rodríguez said. “Not only in the Capital Region but nationally, if not globally — and that tends to attract more applications so we think it will have an important impact.”
America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen says the new e-sports conference is part of the conference’s Academic Consortium Initiative to identify new opportunities for students at research-based institutions. She says the April competition will have an academic focus.
“It’ll be a full day,” Huchthausen said, “Focused on showcasing not only the competitive aspects of e-sports but also include a panel discussion featuring e-sports experts and strategists sharing their knowledge of developing a collegiate program, leagues, and emerging trends in the industry.”
Last fall, 175 students applied to join UAlbany’s e-sports team in just two weeks; 75 players were recruited from the pool. This semester, the team has grown to 100 co-ed students, from an applicant pool of 350.
Albany e-sports director and head coach Professor Michael Leczinsky says the popularity will continue to grow.
“There are 250 million active users in a game like Fortnite,” Leczinsky said. “Games like League of Legends sell out places like the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Madison Square Garden – so e-sports and gaming is really a global phenomenon.”
Leczinsky is also a professor in the College of Emergency Preparedness Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.
“On the academic side of things I’m teaching the university’s first class in e-sports where we’re looking at the entire ecosystem from the hardware to the software the networking -the ethics the practices - the entrepreneurial aspect which is really a fascinating space,” Leczinsky said. “E-sports is over $1 billion industry. And video gaming and digital gaming as a whole rivals at this point Hollywood, the music industry, the publishing industry, at approximately $140 to $160 billion.”
UAlbany’s team plays eight different games including Fortnite, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and Overwatch.
Rodríguez says using e-sports, UAlbany is inspiring students to stay interested in learning the more technical aspects of information technology.
“This is an emerging area not only throughout the Capital Region but nationally and globally,” Rodríguez said. “So we are indeed preparing our students to have the qualifications and the expertise necessary to go into that new emerging market.”
UAlbany e-sports won the Fortnite Fall 2019 ECAC Championship – and is also known for its ‘Overwatch” team which competed at Lake Placid’s Empire State Winter Games 2020, beating 22 teams before losing to Alfred State in the final round.