WORDS BY: MICHAEL GARCIA
PHOTOS BY: MICHAEL GARCIA, VINCE MAI & TOMBER SU
On a Wednesday night, a lecture room in the Hall of Science normally used to learn about atoms, molecules and ions was turned into a place where people gather and learn to improve their gaming skills. Tables were taken over with LCD televisions, video game consoles and gaming laptops, and the sounds of button mashing from arcade sticks and controllers, intense mouse-clicking, laughter and groans filled the room. These people are gamers. This is the eSports Association.
eSports is competitive gaming. At the top level, eSports tournaments draw together hundreds of players to compete for glory and prize money.
It is a highly male-dominated scene and the room where the club meets can attest to that as it is made up of about 80 percent male members. The club meets every other week and hosts tournaments for gamers to come together, socialize and, of course, compete against each other. Cat Tompkins is their president.
“I’ve always been an avid gamer, and I enjoy fostering the community and people’s passions,” she said. “I enjoy meeting new faces and really try to get to know all of the communities.”
Tompkins doesn’t feel pressured or intimidated because of that statistic, and she says the club is very welcoming.
She is a marketing graduate student and works with a custom-gaming PC company called iBUYPOWER as a public relations professional. She is also an administrator for video game publisher Blizzard’s Heroes of the Dorm tournament, where teams of Heroes of the Storm players compete for college tuition prize money.
She first got involved with eSports after joining the Daily 49er and DIG magazine and doing social media for those publications. She attended the annual gaming festival BeachCon in her sophomore year in 2014, the first year the CSULB eSports Club was established.
“I was talking to someone [at BeachCon], and they told me, ‘Anyone is able to create a community, you know that right?’ And then I thought to myself, ‘I want to do this.’”
The rest of the board members were leaving, and so she joined the club and was the vice president for one year, and is now in her second year as president.
Games like League of Legends, fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros., Overwatch, Hearthstone and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are all represented in the club, and Tompkins tries to play all of them to try to understand everyone.
“Everyone can come together in one room and do something they enjoy together,” Tompkin said. “It’s just like running or fishing together. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life.”
“I don’t think people would know that she’s the head of all this and is into this [eSports] kind of stuff and getting sponsors and all that,” said Kai Gonzales, the club’s fighting games branch manager. Gonzales would like the club to get more recognition and grow.
“It’s not always like, ‘oh I gotta win, I gotta win.’ If you need help you can just ask. Everyone’s about community and it’s just chill,” Gonzales said.
eSports has become bigger over the years, with the largest and most well-known fighting game tournament EVO being shown on ESPN2 last year.
“The eSports industry is already very commercialized,” Tompkins said. “A good example is to look at the Overwatch League. They’re taking examples from Major League Baseball and the NFL, and they’re creating fantasy leagues and official teams to represent each city, just like in football. I can see eSports becoming an official sport, and I think it already is, and it’s already made its way to it.”
Besides tournaments and prize money, video games can also do good for people. Tompkins has been involved with Anxiety Gaming, a non-profit organization that provides mental health resources for the gaming community and does charity work for Extra Life, where gamers can participate in gaming marathons and viewers can donate to help children’s hospitals.
Even though she wouldn’t classify herself as a competitive gamer, Tompkins said she holds those who do in high regard.
“I’m very casual,” she said as she laughed. “But, I have so much respect and honor for the people that are competitive. Those people are the ones that keep me going.”
And for those that scoff at the idea of eSports as the real deal?
“It’s a very close-minded way of thinking, and those people haven’t been exposed to what comes out of eSports and gaming,” Tompkins said. “Those people haven’t seen what gaming can do for the rest of the community. People game for charity, for awareness and to show what they believe in and what they’re so passionate about.”