For insight into the process of creating and expanding a collegiate esports program from the ground up, Super League checked in with Sunny Yen, Founder and Director of UCLA Esports at the University of California, Los Angeles.

UCLA Esports began as a personal project, started in the summer of 2017 as a way to organize competitive esports teams and events for the school. “Before, teams were just groups of friends who played together,” said Sunny Yen, Founder and Director of Esports for the organization. “I wanted to bring a more cohesive, organized, and supportive approach to it all.” With the advent and success of esports teams at UCLA’s familial schools Cal and UC Irvine to back the project, Yen decided to present the idea of an official esports team to the school administration.

Now, in addition to representing the university in all collegiate esports competitions, UCLA Esports provides coaching to teams, organizes players’ schedules, and develops practice and training methods in order to support its players. “We plan to incorporate physical and mental training this year,” Yen added, “and we will be working out of a new training arena located in the John Wooden Center.” Other long-term goals for the org include introducing scholarships and creating a more structured collegiate esports league across schools—”developing the PAC-12 conference into an esports powerhouse,” Yen phrased.

However, the official UCLA Esports team is only one source of support that exists for the school’s community of gamers. The team’s sister org Bruin Gaming, which organizes social and casual gaming events for UCLA, plays a critical role in fostering a friendly and safe community for students looking to connect over a mutual love of games. “Just like any recreational activity, you don’t just build a basketball court for the athletes on your varsity team. You build several courts to support the growth of your community,” Yen said.

 

“You don’t just build a basketball court for the athletes on your varsity team. You build several courts to support the growth of your community.”

 

Yen applauds the org’s Winter WonderLAN event as its greatest success. Drawing over 300 attendees, the event featured tournaments, prizes, and special guests including Faye Mata, a former competitive gamer and professional voice actress for characters including Lulu from League of Legends. “Having that many people show up to an event that we planned and executed affirmed to me that this is something we want to continue developing,” Yen said. Bruin Gaming also hosts a myriad of other social and professional events, including LAN parties, social outings, and career panels featuring industry experts from the video game and esports industry.

“I’ve learned that there is never a set blueprint when it comes to creating anything,” Yen said about the challenges of creating and growing an official esports org on campus. “When it came to our club Bruin Gaming, I wanted to really focus on creating lasting relationships. The greatest challenge is making sure that we’re keeping our events fresh, engaging, and fun. For this, I have always required the help of a strong group of individuals who have helped me every step of the way.”

 

“What matters is that you start something.”

 

Yen has served as Director for UCLA Esports for three years. “I am just so excited to see where the next generation can take what I have built here,” Yen said. With regard to students who may be considering starting a collegiate esports program at their school, Yen urged, “Just do it. When it comes to games, I firmly believe in the ‘If you build it, they will come’ model. Even if you don’t have a fancy LAN center, just connecting people in and out of the game does a lot.”

“What matters is that you start something.”

 

Super League is celebrating the collegiate esports communities that help make our community great. Find our Collegiate Community Spotlight feature on UC Irvine here.