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The City Journals

Murray Park Amphitheater hosts its first-ever eSports tournament

Aug 01, 2019 09:49AM ● By Carl Fauver

The eSports tournament featured teams of three competing on the Murray Park Amphitheater stage, with a huge screen between them for spectators to watch. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected] 

OK, first off, get over yourself.

It doesn’t matter whether you (or I) think playing video games is a “sport.”  The fact is, enough people and institutions do believe it is, that some teens and young adults are earning their living playing these games. Others are earning eSports scholarships to the University of Utah and other schools.

So yes, it appears eSports are here to stay, even if their appeal may be “niche,” at best.

“I wish I had not discouraged my children from playing,” said Murray Parks and Recreation Coordinator Leisl Morris. “I have four kids, and the three youngest — who each played video games — are now working in cybersecurity and programming. One of them is earning more than twice the money I am. Parents who are trying to force their kids away from eSports may not be doing the best thing.  I wish I had known then what I know now. eSports is up and coming.”

That’s why Morris got behind the idea of her Murray Parks and Recreation Department hosting a one-night eSports gaming tournament last month at the Murray Park Amphitheater.

“I first heard the idea from the Recreation and Leisure Services Director down in Hurricane (Utah), Bryce King,” Morris added. “I ran they idea by Cory (Plant, Murray Recreation Director). When he said ‘let’s give it a try,’ I knew I needed help from someone who understands eSports, and tournaments, a lot better than me.”

Enter Bobby Leffel, who organized an eSports team at Murray High School last spring before graduating two months ago.

“I created the Utah eSports League and also established our Murray High School team,” Leffel said. “I want to see gaming and eSports build more of a social interaction, to eliminate the stigma (about players who sit alone in their parents’ basement, gaming for hours on end, in need of a shower). I guess I am the cornerstone between the Murray Parks and Rec Department and the Murray High School team.”

As Morris and Leffel put their heads together, they came up with a one-night eSports tournament, staged at the Murray Park Amphitheater. They originally hoped to draw a dozen, 3-person teams, but ended up with eight.

“Kids are already gaming so the idea behind the tournament is to get them out of their houses, into a social situation, to develop face-to-face relationships while playing,” Morris said. “We want to get them to put away their phones, develop relationships, build camaraderie and have fun.”

Murray Parks and Rec officials aren’t certain, but say this may have been the first eSports tournament of its type sponsored by a governmental entity ever, in Utah.

The tournament required six computers and a large screen to show all of the action to the modest audience. Competitors played “Rocket League,” an E-rated (for “everyone”) game, which essentially has race cars playing soccer (don’t ask — that’s what YouTube is for).

The “Inaugural Rocket League 3 v 3” tournament was even streamed online, complete with a pair of jargon-wielding announcers from West Jordan and Provo. 

Computers and other equipment were borrowed for the tournament. But now that it is over, Morris and her fellow Murray Parks and Recreation officials are left with some assessing and decision making.

“I plan to send out a post tournament survey to the participants and their parents to see whether they would support an eSports league if we started one,” Morris said. “We would need a minimum of 12 computers and a room, where competitions could be held in the winter.  

“What I love about eSports is that it resonates with kids who might not otherwise take advantage of any of our recreation programs. It will give these kids an opportunity to socialize.”  

Meantime, for Leffel — who found time between his eSports games to earn a 3.98 GPA at Murray High — it’s on to Utah Valley University in the fall, where he hopes to compete for an unofficial gaming team. But he has another goal as well.

“I actually had offers to play eSports for nine different schools, but none of them in Utah,” he said. “I decided to stay closer to home, instead. My goal next year is to visit every high school in Utah, to try to help them establish eSports teams and leagues.”

Not a sport? Perhaps. But eSports is most certainly an “activity,” gaining traction across Utah and the nation.