School Spotlight: Cal Esports

As of this year, esports is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Originally starting out as a way to make bets with your friends and see who was better at Halo 2, it quickly grew into something much more. The advent of teams, sponsors, and training facilities meant that the various communities around these new sports would have to find their voice among the world's pastimes, some centuries old.

Collegiate esports, on the other hand, had a slightly different upbringing. Mostly starting from small student clubs, these grassroots organizations had to prove what collegiate esports could become if they even hoped for a chance at legitimacy within their university. However, within the span of five years, a large portion of these student-led organizations have gained the legitimacy they originally hoped for, offering athlete status, scholarships, and more. A great example of what a legitimate collegiate esports organization looks like is the club at UC Berkeley, otherwise known as Cal Esports.

In 2008, the organization was actually split into two separate clubs, Gaming at Berkeley and Berkeley Legends. This would later change, and the two clubs would merge following a grand finals win at the first Heroes of the Dorm tournament in 2015. The decision to combine both clubs would prove successful, and, two years later, Cal Esports was created. The launch of the organization was followed by a state-of-the-art community center one year after. Now, growing into one of the largest collegiate esports organizations in the United States, Cal Esports has over 140 student-athletes and works with sponsors such as Pepsi, Corsair, Nvidia, and the San Francisco Shock.

Cal Esports Logo. (Credit: Cal Esports Facebook)

The quotes below have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kevin Ponn, the current program manager at Cal Esports, has been working with the organization since 2015 and is now the first full-time staff member dedicated to esports.  

Kevin: "[...] We’re a team of campus staff and student leaders working together to create the best collegiate gaming program in the country. Our program's pillars of community, competition, lifelong learning, and social good guide us as we create new programs and events that enhance the student experience on campus.

 It is a privilege to serve the passionate and diverse gaming community on campus. Being able to create new opportunities for students is one of the most exciting parts of my position. [...] Working with sponsors has helped us create new programs for students and directly funded the Cal Esports Community Center."

The Cal Esports Community Center, which opened in 2018, is a facility where students and staff at UCB can hang out, watch matches, and take advantage of the 55 high-end PCs. It’s here where the official Cal Esports team, as well as other gaming clubs around campus, practice throughout the week. Come August, it will be used to host a gaming expo for Caltopia, one of the largest college lifestyle events in North America. The event itself, while not being limited to gaming, connects UC Berkeley to the various game companies within the surrounding Bay Area.

Kevin: “[...] Caltopia creates an atmosphere of excitement and discovery for students who have never been introduced to gaming before. Seeing new students get fired up about campus gaming clubs, team tryouts, the newest gaming hardware, and other program announcements is something I look forward to every August.”


Cal Esports members. (Credit: Cal Esports Facebook)

None of this would be possible without the help from their sponsors and partners. Cal Esports currently works with companies such as Nvidia, Corsair, Riot Games, and the San Francisco Shock who provide equipment, event prizing, and have also enabled the organization to create new programs and fund community center upgrades for students to take advantage of. 

Kevin: “[...] When we launched Cal Esports in the Fall of 2017, the success of it really put us on the map when it came to sponsors. [All of our current sponsors and partners] joined later that academic year.”

Like any collegiate esports organization, their goal is to continue to grow and provide bigger and better opportunities for current and future generations of students at the university. When asked about where they’d like to see collegiate esports go in the future, Kevin Ponn shared a few of their future plans.

Kevin: “Cal Esports will continue to grow in the coming years, offering more areas for student involvement, industry career opportunities, and victories! With universities like UC Berkeley and UC Irvine in the first wave of colleges picking up fully supported esports programs, I’m looking forward to seeing other universities do the same. I also hope more students become empowered to pursue careers in gaming.”

I’d like to thank UC Berkeley and Kevin Ponn for the interview. For readers who attend UCB, keep your eyes out for more information on events. On March 28th-29th when Cal Esports will host the San Francisco Shock at Zellerbach Hall, and On August 25th-26th Caltopia is set to kick off. 

Are there any esports events at your university that you’re excited about? Let us know on Twitter!


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