On a Sunday afternoon at Utah State University, USU student Bryson Catmull sat in a dimly lit room playing a game on the computer, his fingers effortlessly clicking the keyboard and moving the mouse to fend off characters in a fantasy world.
The game is “Heroes of the Storm” and Catmull, a senior, was filling in for another member of USU’s Esports Club who could not make it to the tournament Sunday.
Even though Catmull’s role with the club is limited, he enjoys the thrill of playing competitive video games, or esports.
“I’m a really competitive individual, and I love to win,” said Catmull, who grew up playing paintball and basketball.
“When I play this, I get great satisfaction out of ruining someone else’s day.”
The Esports Club just gained university club sport team status, according to members of the group and USU officials.
The team can now represent the university by wearing jerseys with the school logo, have access to practice space and get assistance with things like travel and fundraising, according to Chase Ellis, director of USU campus recreation.
“Adding it (esports) to the club sport program will instill that competition … with area schools, not just with strangers on the internet,” Ellis said.
What’s more, the club’s new status will “instill that school pride that they’re representing Utah State,” he said.
The status change for the Esports Club is a dual endeavor between Campus Recreation and the Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences Department, according to Victor Lee, associate professor and club adviser.
Lee is teaching a new course this semester called “Developmental Esports,” which includes many students who are part of the club. Lee’s department is also providing space for club members to practice.
Lee admits that he’s had to bone up on esports since he doesn’t consider himself much of a gamer, but nevertheless, he is excited to be the club’s adviser.
“It’s been a big learning curve (for the students), but a really important one,” Lee said. “For them to understand more of the finances and policies associated with official university recognition have been really huge. Now, more of them are taking on responsibilities.”
Victor Davila, president of the Esports Club, said club members welcome the upgrade.
“We’ve been working very hard in making sure that, even before we became a club sport, that we would represent our university like we would as professionals,” he said. “This way, the university is now treating us as their professionals, as their teams.”
Before the Esports Club’s new recognition, Davila said its day-to-day functions involved “a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
“I would … pay out of pocket, go to tournaments,” he said.
Club members would wear jerseys bearing the USU Student Association logo because esports was only recognized as a student club, noted Devila, who gestured toward numerous jerseys from previous years hanging from the wall in the practice room during an interview.
“Now, we get to do it under the guise of we are Utah State University — we’re not just a club at Utah State University,” Davila said.
Something else the Esports Club gets with its new recognition is practice space — something club members like McKay Patterson feel thankful for.
“We have a better experience when we’re playing to compete at a higher level,” said Patterson, sitting with a bank of computers in a small room in the Education Building, where the club plays. “Before, I was playing on my laptop, which isn’t the best.”
What’s more, having a practice room is great for team morale, Patterson noted.
“We do something great, and we all turn to each other and give high fives,” he said.
Davila said USU’s new recognition of the club “helps legitimize esports as an industry.”
Ellis agreed, saying esports teams have “taken other universities by storm,” noting schools like the University of Utah and even those in the Big Ten have similar clubs.
The USU Esports Club currently is gearing up for a competition with University of Nevada-Las Vegas during Homecoming. Right now, the club is playing matches in preseason, according to Davila.
The Esports Club has 110 active members and 450 people following them on Facebook, according to Davila.
The club plays in three leagues and seven different games, including classics like the Japanese fighting game Tekken and Super Smash Bros.
Aside from competition, Davila and Patterson said the USU Esports Club hopes to dispel a stereotype of video game players being lazy and antisocial.
“It used to be something you envision someone sitting on the computer, eating potato chips, drinking Diet Coke and playing all day. Nowadays, it’s a lot different,” Patterson said.
Online streaming through platforms like Twitch and YouTube has changed the gaming industry, he said.
“People can watch and interact with people playing games,” Patterson said. “It’s not just some guy sitting in his mom’s basement anymore. I think that stereotype is fading away a lot.”