This year, black jerseys splashed with blue and gold and depicting a snail wearing a gaming headset can be spotted among the sea of students on the UC Santa Cruz campus. They introduce themselves to Slug Gaming, a thriving eSports club on campus that regularly competes and wins against other powerful collegiate video game competition teams.
These new jerseys are just one of the ways Slug Gaming management hopes to raise the profile of their club, which is the largest gaming and esports group on campus and features both competitive teams and a casual, social side for all interested gamers on campus. The group’s president and co-presidents want to increase campus support for their players, but also bring the two sides of their club together and foster a strong sense of community for gamers at UCSC.
Since the club’s inception about 10 years ago, Slug Gaming has brought together students who play a wide variety of online games. Their Discord server, which has been around since around 2014, shows that thousands of students have been members at some level. Although members come from across campus, many are typically game design students (both computer science and arts majors) and other engineering students. Some take leadership positions in the club related to specific games, others take the lead in social media and graphic design, sponsorships, etc.
Now, with a more active growth push than the last two years of running the club, Wu estimates that there are about a few hundred students who come to occasional social events hosted by Slug Gaming throughout the year. Casual events include viewing parties for professional eSports tournaments with snacks and prizes, and general meetings to keep up with the progress of competing teams.
“It would be really nice to get away from the COVID period and do everything online,” said Kimberly Wu, a computer science student who is president of Slug Gaming and runs the casual side of the club. “I know the stereotype is that gamers don’t leave their rooms and see the sun, but I just really want to be able to meet people and cultivate that kind of personal community.”
Slug Gaming sometimes partners with companies like Redbull and MSI who may sponsor snacks and prizes for their events. The co-chairs hope to be able to collaborate more often with other student organizations, as they do each year for the annual Slugcon event hosted by the UCSC Anime and Manga Association.
The students who compete on Slug Gaming’s competitive teams are dedicated high-level players in some of the most popular games in the eSports scene, including Apex Legends, Valorant, Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, Call of Duty, Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege and Splatoon. The club fields both varsity and junior varsity teams for most of these games, consisting of about three to five players depending on the demands of the game, along with coaches, who are usually more experienced and highly skilled players, and reserve players.
Players compete against other collegiate teams in tournaments roughly monthly, attending practice sessions, scrimmages and game previews called VOD previews several times a week to prepare for these matchups. Larger annual tournaments offer a chance to bring home over a thousand dollars in prizes to the winners. These collegiate tournaments are part of the expanding eSports scene internationally, which was estimated to be a nearly $1.39 billion industry in 2022 and is projected to continue growing in the coming years.
Slug Gaming’s track record in the competitive scene is impressive: their Valorant, League of Legends, and Apex Legends teams regularly place in the top 2 to 4 of tournaments for their respective games. Valorant and Apex Legends teams brought in over a thousand dollars in prize money last academic year, aiming for more profits. So far this year, the UCSC Overwatch team is undefeated in the National Student Esports Conference.
In addition, Slug Gaming leaders are seeking greater university support for their group, fighting for recognition as an official sports team affiliated with UCSC Athletics, a status that esports teams at other UCs have achieved with their athletic departments. athletics. Currently, Slug Gaming is a student group affiliated with UCSC SOAR, and students must fundraise or pay out of pocket to participate in tournaments.
For the first time since COVID, UC Santa Cruz eSports players will appear at tournaments wearing the same jerseys as all other teams thanks to sponsorship from UCSC’s Center for Innovation and Business Engagement (IBE). The lack of jerseys has been a sore point for players in the past.
“It was funny because we won a lot of games without jerseys, and the teams that had jerseys were beaten by a team without jerseys and no school support,” said Michelle Wang, co-president of Slug Gaming, who is a Game of the Arts majoring in design and oversees the competitive part of the club. “It was kind of funny, but at the same time, it can only go on for so long until we say: This is not funny anymore, this is a problem.”
Slug Gaming management worked actively with UC Santa Cruz Student Business Services to find ways to create a dedicated physical space for the group, recognizing the significant logistical and environmental challenges of finding space on a residential campus. For now, in-person meetings and events are being held in reserved classrooms.
Overall, Wang wants to raise Slug Gaming’s profile and brand recognition on campus. She wants to build more support and community around their players competing and winning in college tournaments, and notes that many UCSC students don’t know about the group or think of it as the “Crown and Merrill gaming club.”
“Not quite,” she said with a laugh. “We want to let people know, ‘Hey, we have a gaming club, hey, this is a real gaming club, no, we’re not the Crown and Merrill gaming club!’