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Nyle Sky Kauweloa, Kevin Nguyen and Dylan Liu, CEO of Uconnect, a popular platform for gaming and esports that links programs to sponsorships with gaming companies

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa esports program is basking in the national spotlight once again, making its first ever appearance at the Esports Awards as one of the nation’s best collegiate programs and showcasing the program at an exclusive online college recruitment fair.

National awards

UH Mānoa esports program leaders had an opportunity to network with some of the top pioneers in the skyrocketing esports industry—which is expected to see $1.08 billion in global esports revenues in 2021—at the Esports Awards in Arlington, Texas on November 20.

person in suit standing in front of an esports awards sign
Nyle Sky Kauweloa

The program was nominated by its peers across the country as one of 10 finalists for the nation’s best collegiate esports program, after experiencing its best year in program history. UH Mānoa earned national recognition for several of its teams, including winning its first collegiate tournament competing in Valorant, and becoming the first higher education institution to host Overwatch League regular season tournaments, playoffs and grand finals.

While Maryville University from Missouri took home the win, program leaders who attended the event said they were thrilled to be nominated for the award and look forward to building on the success of the past year into the upcoming esports seasons.

“One of the missions that I had in attending was to further amplify the message that Hawaiʻi is absolutely ready to play host to the broader video games industry. With the success of the Overwatch League events, people now understand that there is an extra location on the map of global esports,” said Nyle Sky Kauweloa—a communication and information sciences PhD student, head of the UH Mānoa Esports Task Force in the College of Social Sciences and instructor. “Naturally, people want to come to Hawaiʻi, but now they want to come because of esports.”

Kevin Nguyen, UH Mānoa esports program assistant and spring 2019 communications graduate, added, “It was a great feeling to be able to reconnect with some of my peers in the past and connect with new collegiate personalities in the space. Seeing how everyone is all on board to accomplish the same mission of pushing this industry forward was motivating to me. Our collegiate industry peers all reached out commending us for the marvelous work that we have done, and it brings me joy knowing that the people we look up to or work alongside recognize our work.”

Collegiate recruitment fair

Kauweloa represented UH Mānoa and the esports program at an inaugural online collegiate recruitment fair, hosted by the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF). UH Mānoa esports has been part of EGF since 2020, and has three teams participating in the EGF league: Super Smash Bros., Overwatch and Rocket League.

EGF has more than 40 colleges and universities nationwide, and its goal is to create a set of competitive, participatory and inclusive standards to make collegiate esports more sustainable within its league. According to EGF Founder Tyler Schrodt, the goal of the recruitment fair in early December was to allow member institutions to showcase their universities and esports programs to the more than 200 high school student attendees.

“Naturally, there is a lot that we can bank on with being in Hawaiʻi, but add to that a fantastic esports program, one that offers students opportunities to engage with the wider video games and the esports industry, it’s hard to ignore the appeal that UH offers,” Kauweloa said. “Nearly every student that I have talked to in the EGF league has heard of the work we did with Overwatch. In 2022, I have further plans to ride that momentum with some surprises that will continue to highlight UH‘s role supporting Hawaiʻi‘s larger efforts in esports.”

Visit the UH esports team’s Twitter and Discord pages. More stories on UH’s esports program.

This program is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals 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

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