University pioneers eSports in Pittsburgh

eSport scene finds growth at Point Park


Photo by Jordyn Hronec

Students play Super Mario Strikers at the tournament hosted by the Rowland School of Business Friday, April 12.

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Co-News Editor

In 2013, the United States government officially moved to recognize professional video game players as athletes, thus classifying competitive gaming as a sport.

Competitive gaming, or eSports as it is known by many, has been growing in popularity over the past several years, especially in America. The 2013 decision by the U.S. government was crucial as it allowed professional gamers from overseas to obtain visas. This in turn allowed them to play in America, bringing the eSports scene with them.

However, the eSports scene in Pittsburgh, compared to other cities in America, is small, according to adjunct professor of the Rowland School of Business, Chuck Berry.

Berry teaches classes on the business of eSports to SAEM students.

“There are around 40 colleges that give scholarships for eSports,” Berry said. “eSports is big on the college scene, and Pittsburgh has been late to come to the party.”

But on Point Park’s campus, eSports has taken root in more ways than one.

The Wood Street Zombies eSports club (formerly known as Good Luck Have Fun eSports) was established during the Fall 2018 semester. Ethan Green, a junior cinema production major, serves as both treasurer and president of the club and is one of its founding members.

“Last year, me and a group of guys were playing in a college-level eSports game for a game called CS Go,” Green said. “There were five of us playing, and we were playing under the title of Point Park, and Point Park caught wind of it, and at first they had an issue with us using the school’s name without them knowing. But then through that conversation, they said that they were actually interested in starting an eSports initiative at Point Park. So they said, why don’t you guys start a club and just kind of do this thing. And so the next year, we had a meeting with our advisor, Jaime [Ballesteros], and from there, the club started.”

Green also said the club’s name change was a result of wanting to have more solid branding in relationship with a mascot.

So far this year, the club found success in hosting a Mario Kart tournament, which according to Green, attracted 30 to 40 students. The club has also formed a relationship with Point Park’s formal eSports initiative by the Rowland School of Business, which was started by the dean of the school, Steve Tanzilli.

Hannah Johnston and Marcyssa Brown, both junior SAEM majors, serve as interns for the Rowland School of Business and are leading the initiative to bring eSports to Point Park. Johnston serves as the content manager for the initiative and Brown is the team manager.

The effort to create an eSports team began during the Fall 2018 semester with a Super Smash Brothers tournament hosted by the Rowland School of Business. The Wood Street Zombies eSports cub was also present at this event. The top three winners of the tournament, Milton Melendez, Brandon Staab and Ryan Wolfe, were offered a spot on the official Point Park Super Smash Brothers eSports team.

So far, the team has only been practicing and participating in small-scale tournaments, focusing solely on Super Smash Brothers.

“We’ve had several practices,” Wolfe, a freshman cinema production major said. “Technically we’ve been going to tournaments, just not officially. Hopefully in the future there are more events and more tournaments outside of the school, and to compete with other people that are on other teams. That’d be nice.”

The PPU eSports initiative also has established relations with the Pittsburgh Knights, a professional organization that partners with the Steelers to host several different eSports teams in the city. The Knights have teams that play Super Smash Brothers, PUBG, Hearthstone, Paladins, Smite, Gwent, Battlegrounds and Fortnite.

“We have practiced with professional players from the Knights and have gotten actual advice from them,” Staab, a freshman forensic science major, said.

Steven Abate is Pittsburgh’s top Super Smash Brothers player and plays competitively for the Knights. He met with members of Point Park’s team and shared advice and strategy tips to the players.

The Pittsburgh Knights, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Cleveland Cavaliers, are partnering with the PPU eSports initiative to put on the first eSports event in Pittsburgh, the “Steel City Showdown”. The tournament, which is set to last from May 10-12, will take place at the Playhouse. The tournament will consist of three games, NBA 2K, NHL 2K and Super Smash Brothers. It is open to the public, and will cost players $10 to compete in Super Smash Brothers and $20 to compete in either NBA 2K or NHL 2K. For spectators, tickets are $5. Winners in each title will be awarded $1,500.

According to Johnston and Brown, the future of eSports at Point Park is dependent on the success of the tournament.

“It will be interesting to see how this event goes, because right now, we actually don’t know how big eSports is in Pittsburgh,” Brown said. “There’s been no big tournament this year. So this May is going to show if it’s really viable. But I think it’s interesting to be in the middle of trying to bring eSports to Pittsburgh. I feel like all cities can have it, you just have to have the culture and the reach.”

Along with the May tournament, the PPU eSports initiative is also playing host to an eSports summer camp for high school students as a part of an effort to recruit more future players. This past Friday, the PPU eSports initiative hosted a second Super Smash Brothers tournament in order to recruit more players for the team. The Wood Street Zombies eSports club was also present at this tournament and had other games set up for students to play as well.

“Originally when the school proposed the idea of having a club, they wanted it to be this group of students that plays games so that if the school ever wanted to start a team, they would have this pool of students that they can pull students from,” Green said.

The PPU eSports initiative is looking to expand its efforts in the future.

“Our outlook on the future of PPU eSports is not until around 2020,” Brown said. “We don’t know if PPU eSports is going to be in the background or if it’s going to work with the Wood Street Zombies.”

“It also depends on how the May event turns out,” Johnston said. “I think that’s a big factor in figuring out if eSports is going to be big in Pittsburgh.”

Future expansion plans include creating teams that specialize in different games as well, such as Overwatch or Fortnite. There are also hopes that in the future, the eSports teams could become a part of Point Park’s athletic department, which would create potential scholarship opportunities to students who are recruited to the school’s official teams.

“A lot of schools actually offer scholarships to eSports players,” Johnston said. “They do put in a lot of hours, especially if they were to practice as much as we wanted them to. So we would love to give them some form of scholarship, and I think that’s a big part of why we want to be housed under athletics.”