It’s not often UTA takes on an opponent armed with spells and battle axes, but last weekend was one of those times.

Dark Blaze, UTA’s representatives at Heroes of the Dorm, defeated University of Tennessee’s We Vollin during the tournament’s semifinals Saturday in Seattle, but they fell against Arizona State in the finals Sunday.

Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Dorm is a 64-team bracket tournament open to full and part-time college students and began in February. Players compete in a series of bracket matches based on the Heroes of the Storm online arena video game.

The winning team’s five players earn tuition for their entire college career.

“Whereas other games may be more geared towards the individual player, this game is more like, ‘Hey, get your friends together and you have a real team environment,’” political science sophomore Yusuf Sunka, who plays as Kure for the team, said.

Before taking on We Vollin, Sunka said the game’s focus on teamwork and Dark Blaze’s synergy were the keys to their success in the tournament.

“What our focus is, is just having really good chemistry and team symmetry and that normally outshines our mechanical play,” he said.

All five members, who hail from UTA’s eSports club, train multiple times a week, but they rarely play face-to-face. Playing together in front of a crowd, Sunka said, is a big change.

“Obviously, we all know each other really well from voice comms online and meeting irregularly in person, but to actually be here as one unit, it’s really surreal, and it’s a real experience for us,” he said.

Although Dark Blaze did not bring home the top prize, the members of the final four teams in the tournament each received gaming PCs and an all expense paid trip to Seattle for the tournament.

With millions of dollars up for grabs, tournament style eSports are quickly rising in popularity, with popular competitions arising around games such as Counter Strike and League of Legends. Data available from E-Sports Earnings, a community driven gaming site, suggests more than $198 billion in prize money has been awarded from more than 16,000 tournaments to date.

Alongside his twin brother Tyler, Adam Rosen is the president and co-founder of Tespa, the eSports association who host Heroes of the Dorm and other eSports tournaments. The brothers first began setting up tournaments as students at UT Austin in 2010, Rosen said, and began to help other universities create similar competitions.

“I don’t think there was ever a point in the beginning where I said, ‘Yes, I love eSports. I’m going to get involved with this,’” Rosen said. “I think the eSports ecosystem and eSports industry has really evolved with us and it was kind of a natural progression.”

Rosen equates the rising popularity of eSports with the same qualities that drive interest in traditional sports, he said. Mainly, the desire to come together in competition and to build a connection between individuals, students and universities.

“I think it’s really about social connection,” he said. “Whether it’s watching a stream online or competing against a friend at their local college, I think it’s really those social connections that they gain through doing that.”

Through focusing on these social connections and interactions, Rosen said, the image of the socially awkward gamer is shattered.

“People are getting together, they’re creating really awesome experiences for themselves and their friends,” he said. “I think the general public is starting to see, ‘Wow! This is something that’s really cool and a legitimate form of competition,’ just like traditional sports are.”


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