The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa will host one of the fastest growing leagues in all of international esports. Elite teams from the Overwatch League (OWL) will participate in a series of four tournaments at UH Mānoa May–August 2021.
OWL is the world’s first city-based esports league with 20 teams based in North America, Europe and Asia, and features the game Overwatch, a team-based action game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The competition in Hawaiʻi is an effort to bridge the gap to bring safe and online interregional play from its best teams. Last year, due to COVID-19, OWL teams were rarely able to play head-to-head matches between teams in different regions because of the online latency difference.
The upcoming tournaments will each feature two teams from its West region playing from UH Mānoa, while teams from East region in Asia will connect virtually and play head-to-head in real-time. Matches will take place May 6–8, June 10–12, July 15–17 and August 19–21. They can be viewed live and on demand from the Overwatch League YouTube channel. The winning team for each of the four tournaments at UH will take home a $100,000 prize.
“For the university, there’s unprecedented opportunity for students to get as close as they can with a publisher and organizer to see how the tournament runs and how a publisher organizes events because this is basically a new form of worldwide entertainment,” said Nyle Sky Kauweloa, a communication and information sciences PhD student and head of the UH Mānoa Esports Task Force in the College of Social Sciences.
“I’m most excited about getting to work with professionals in a sense of how to run a large scale tournament where everyone in the world is watching,” said Alexine Niro, a UH Mānoa mechanical engineering senior and Overwatch player on UH Mānoa’s esports team. “Anothing thing is that my teammates and I get to meet the gaming professionals that you see around the world as well, so it’s a surreal experience for Hawaiʻi to be a part of.”
“Working with the University of Hawaiʻi has helped solve one of our biggest challenges as we continue to safely compete in online competition,” said Corey Smith, director of broadcast technology for the Overwatch League. “Playing from Hawaiʻi unlocks online play between our East and West regions, which makes our competition stronger and our matches more exciting for fans globally. We’re thrilled to be teaming up with Hawaiʻi and local students to help make it all happen.”
Overwatch is just one of many games propelling the esports industry. A new global esports and live-streaming market report projects global esports revenue will reach $1.08 billion in 2021, up 14.5% from 2020; and $833.6 million of those revenues will come from media rights and sponsorships. The global live streaming audience will also hit more than 728 million in 2021, growing 10% from 2020.
Skyrocketing esports at UH Mānoa
The UH Mānoa esports program currently fields teams for Overwatch, League of Legends, Rainbow Six, Super Smash Bros. and VALORANT. Many of these teams have garnered national recognition, including a top 25 ranking for the Overwatch team among 271 North American colleges and universities. Kauweloa said one of the main goals of UH Mānoa Esports is to discover ways to connect students with the wider gaming and esports industry. One example is a recent partnership with Cloud9, one of the largest professional esports organizations in North America.
- Related UH News story: UH Mānoa Esports team scores national recognition, special invite, November 24, 2020
The esports community at UH Mānoa was gaining interest and participation before the COVID-19 pandemic and has grown even more since. That’s because many of the conversations and activities have moved online to UH Mānoa esports’ Discord chat application channel, which has more than 300 members.
“These have become our new arenas because of COVID-19,” Kauweloa said. “This is where we hold events, organize events and talk with students. Since COVID-19 began, we have a whole group of students that haven’t even met each other in person and only met each other through Discord, and only know about UH through the UH esports Discord.”
While becoming a professional esports player is a lofty goal, students involved in the teams gain experience in management, events planning, web development and business management.
“What you would imagine in a traditional setting with sports, you would replicate that with esports,” Kauweloa said. “But I would say there are even more opportunities to get into the esports industry because so much of what is required out of esports is something that requires new media skills, data analytics, media production and web development.”
UH Mānoa esports courses
UH Mānoa’s School of Communications in the College of Social Sciences is launching a three-course esports series beginning this fall and students from all majors are invited to apply. Twenty selected students will enroll in a fall 2021 course on esports and society; and two spring 2022 courses on streaming and content creation, and marketing. A committee will select the group of 20 students. Interested students need to complete this form by May 14, 2021 at 5 p.m.
This program is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.
—By Marc Arakaki