GCU the venue for an ultimate weekend of esports

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos courtesy of Joshua Begoody
GCU News Bureau

Grand Canyon University's League of Legends Varsity Team emerged victorious and took the No. 1 spot in League of Legends at the first GCU Esports Invitational on Saturday at GCU Arena. Team members are (from left) Jake Speight, Ryan Horn, Zach Klopp, Jeremy Chiang and Conner Kleinsasser.

Grand Canyon University’s Esports program plugged into the gaming community this weekend with two events -- the first collegiate Esport Invitational as well as the biggest Esports event of the semester, the Super Smash Showdown, which attracted more than 400 spectators and competitors.

Teams from four Arizona universities – the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and GCU -- descended on the GCU Arena main bowl on Saturday to compete in the invitational.

After more than eight hours of competition, the GCU League of Legends Varsity Team emerged victorious. Team members include Jake Speight, Ryan Horn, Zach Klopp, Jeremy Chiang and Conner Kleinsasser.

The University of Arizona team took the top honors in Overwatch.

GCU Esports Coordinator Albert Lee said the weekend of gaming is just one of the ways the program is extending its outreach this year beyond the campus.

More than 400 gamers and spectators gathered at GCU Arena for the events.

 “It was a small tournament – just four schools were represented the first time – but this is probably the biggest tournament of its kind,” said Lee of the first-time collegiate invitational event. “Over 60 people from other schools came to campus to spectate or compete.”

Gamers also spent the weekend competing in the free-entry, two-day Super Smash Showdown on Saturday and Sunday in the Arena.

Placing in the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gaming event were: first place, Aldo Nuñez, who is working toward his computer science bachelor's degree with an emphasis in game and simulation development; second place, Tanner Webdale, a Smash Ultimate Varsity Team member who improved on his third-place win from the spring; and third place, David “Kobby” Solomon.

Nuñez took home a 32-inch TV and Nintendo Switch, Webdale a Nintendo Switch Official GameCube Controller (Ultimate Edition), and Solomon a $50 Nintendo gift card.

Aldo Nunez (center) won the two-day Super Smash Showdown. Runner-up was Tanner Webdale (left), and third place went to David Solomon (right).

This was the second time GCU Esports and leadership from the Smash community organized the Showdown. The first Smash gathering in the spring was so well attended, they jumped on planning another one.

The tournament was open exclusively to GCU students.

Unlike the GCU Esport Invitational, the Super Smash Showdown was not a formal tournament.

“Smash was more of a fun, casual, event,” said Lee.

Players gamed for more than 16 hours over two days. The first day featured game play by the seeded group, followed by a double-elimination bracket the following day.

Both events were broadcast live on GCU Esports’ Twitch as well as GCU TV.

The burgeoning Esports program has been making a name for itself in the gaming community, particularly this year, when the varsity Overwatch team defeated the No. 2-ranked University of California, Irvine, to make it to the quarterfinals of the ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship in Houston in May.

Not only was that a big win, but so was the program’s recent GCU Esports Arena expansion.

Over the summer, a renovation doubled the size of the arena. It grew from 1,700 square feet to a little more than 3,200 square feet, allowing it to incorporate even more high-end gaming PCs – from 36 to more than 70 -- along with a larger viewing lounge, expanded console gaming area and a varsity training section.

The recent GCU Esports Invitational and Super Smash Showdown are just two of the activities in a busy year for the program, which not only wants to emphasize its competitive teams but its social activities, too.

An ASU team placed first in Overwatch at the inaugural GCU Esports Invitational.

“This is going to be the first year where we’re really focusing on making a community that isn’t just good at playing the games,” senior finance major and Esports Club present Conner Kleinsasser told GCU Today in August. “We want this to be a place now where you can come in, even if you’ve never played a game before. … The best players can help the bad players and kind of just help everybody have a great time, because for a lot of players, you’re not trying to be the best, you’re not trying to be a pro. For a lot of people, it’s just something to do – it’s a lot of fun.”

Next up for the program is the Esports Spookfest at 6 p.m. Nov. 1, which will include a costume contest, casual pickup matches for League of Legends and Overwatch, a Teamfight Tactics tournament, the screening of spooky old movies in the lounge, raffles, giveaways from Tespa and Riot Games, and snacks.

GCU's Esports Club touts more than 900 student members, 100 of whom compete as collegiate players on more than 17 teams in such titles as Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone and Fortnite.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU Today: Forget viral -- GCU Esports goes social

GCU Today: Esports Arena 2.0 to debut during Welcome Week

GCU Today: GCU's Overwatch team eyes top spot at ESPN event

GCU Today: GCU team's season ends in ESPN edge-of-seat match


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