David Kaucic sat down at his computer in a study room in the library with a few friends on a Saturday morning. He could have been any student, just studying at the Bizz — but not that day.
Instead, he was representing OU in a tournament that he and his team had been working toward for weeks. Kaucic and his team play League of Legends, an online video game, in a recreational league as a part of OU eSports Association’s gold-capped team.
Despite coming together under less-than-ideal circumstances, the team made it to the top four in the league over the course of February and March. On April 7, the playoffs took place.
While Kaucic said he and his team struggled a bit in their matches and ended up placing fourth, he said it was a big accomplishment to even be in the playoffs. The team was competing against others from around Oklahoma that had a set roster for the duration of the season, while its lineup rotated weekly for most of the season.
Kaucic, a chemical engineering sophomore, has been a member of the esports association since its creation, and he also has been a member of the League of Legends team since its creation. The roster rotation was designed to determine the best candidates for more competitive teams in the long term.
The OU eSports Association is aimed at matching the rapid growth of a rising gaming industry and fostering a community at the university. Five months in, the association has swelled from fewer than 30 members at its November 2017 launch to more than 250 members today.
Kaucic said the growth of the group has been incredible.
“It’s basically exploded,” Kaucic said. “It’s really big now, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that stabilizes.”
In North America specifically, esports have seen significant investment from numerous franchises in traditional sports leagues like NBA and MLB, including the New York Yankees, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, among others.
Many universities around the country have esports programs at different levels. The Big 10 Conference is currently in its second season of conference play in League of Legends, and schools receive $35,000 in scholarship money from Riot Games to distribute evenly among players.
Recent OU graduate Alex Tu, who served as vice president of the OU eSports Association before he graduated in December, said the organization wants to make OU a bigger player in collegiate esports.
Tu said at OU, the organization hosts events and community nights and is in the process of forming competitive teams in a number of different titles, adding that the team aspires to someday incorporate scholarships for its competitive teams as well.
“We would like to make our teams very competitive so that they can hold their own with some of the best in collegiate leagues,” Tu said.
The organization meets in person every other week, and much of its communication takes place via an application called Discord. The meetings cover what is happening with the association at the moment, and Discord plays a big part in building friendships between members.
“We’d like to continue to have a very strong sense of community on campus,” Tu said.
Kaucic said he feels the organization has excelled at building connections among students so far. Even as an engineering major, Kaucic writes for the esports association’s website, which is still in development, as a part of its media team.
“(We) get to connect because we really love to write, but we never would have met otherwise,” Kaucic said.
An avid gamer since childhood, Tu also serves as chief operating officer and caster, or announcer, for GetRECt, an organization that hosts tournaments and gaming leagues in Oklahoma with games like League of Legends, Hearthstone and Overwatch.
In April 2017, Tu said he happened on a League of Legends tournament that was being hosted by Mike Aguilar, technology strategist for OU IT and now adviser for the esports association, who was hoping to develop more student cohesion around the idea of an esports organization.
Combined with Tu’s previous experience in esports, specifically League of Legends, Aguilar’s vision was on its way to becoming a reality.
Tu said one unique goal of the esports association is to eventually enable industry-related professional development.
“We’d also like to start building curriculum so that we can make professionals out of the esports association that are ready to go into careers in esports once they graduate,” Tu said.
Callie Simonton, film and media studies junior and internal communications director for the organization, said she enjoys her role monitoring the Discord voice and text channels that the organization uses, as well as serving as the Overwatch coach.
The esports association is working toward weekly online streams to give a bigger platform to streamers from OU and to increase exposure for the organization as a whole, Simonton said.
“We’re growing really fast, and we want colleges to realize that esports is going to be a big thing in the future,” Simonton said. “That’s what we’re trying to work on at OU."