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UCSD esports athletes compete on a virtual playing field

College sports might not always mean working up a sweat. At UC San Diego their computer gaming team has a new home on campus and 200 thousand dollars in scholarship money. KPBS Science and Technology reporter Thomas Fudge talks about the growing presence of esports on campus.

Rows of computer screens and padded high-back chairs mark the space where the UC San Diego Esports teams come to train and compete. It’s a spacious room, surrounded by windows.

One person we met there was varsity esports gamer Sam Duzen, whose nickname is Lava Blue. He was playing a game of Rocket League with his twin brother. Imagine rocket-propelled cars playing soccer. He fielded a question: Is esports really an intercollegiate sport?

“Definitely, yes. There’s practice. There’s team commitment,” Duzen said. “You have to put in the work just like anything else.”


So college sports may not always mean working up a sweat. There are about 100 students involved in esports at UCSD, which has had its program since 2019. This year, the teams have a new headquarters, the Triton Esports Center in the RIMAC Annex, along with a big investment in recruiting talent.

“Recently the chancellor committed $200,000 to esports scholarships, which is huge. And the students got to see that and it’s really pushing this momentum and support for these students not just to be academically successful, but to award them for their passion,” said Liz Henry, a Recreation Department associate director at UCSD.

The director of UCSD Esports is Chris Griebenow, who said the teams had hit at least one other milestone: winning first place in the League of Legends game competition at the University of California Esports Initiative in January.

“League of Legends is a MOBA: a massive online battle arena,” Griebenow said. “So in that game there are five people on each team controlling five different champions with different abilities and the common goal of destroying the enemy team’s nexus.”

Sam Ibevich — her gamer tag is Sam I Am — is the president of Triton Gaming, which existed prior to the formal esports teams on campus.


“I would look over my brother’s shoulder when he would play video games as a kid. My parents bought him a PlayStation back in the day. And I strangely became more interested in it than he was,” Ibevich said.

And everyone’s got a nickname.

“Most gamers don’t use their names in an actual game. We use gamer tags,” said Josh Chou, the president of UCSD Esports.

He is Lolo. Like other gamers, he has it printed on the back of his jersey.

“Honestly, I just came up with it on a whim in third grade. And it’s stuck ever since,” he said.

Esports may be a sport in fact, but at UCSD the team is governed by the Recreation Department, not Athletics. In fact, the NCAA has shied away from embracing esports for a particular reason.

“They’ve decided that, with the way esports is generally played and those types of students that generally come from it, the highest individuals in collegiate esports have already gone pro,” Griebenow said. “In the NCAA, that is not allowed, to have a professional athlete on your team.”

And esports is a big industry. Last year, its revenues exceeded $1 billion, according to The commercial aspect becomes clear when you look at the names of the companies that help sponsor UCSD’s program on the wall of the Triton Esports Center: such names as Turtle Beach, Roccat and Zowie.

Chou is a biology major, and he’s not an outstanding gamer. Still, his professional future might be in esports. Like many industries, it has are a lot of professions attached to it

“And that’s not just graphic designers and photographers,” Chou said, “but also video producers, broadcasters and people on the partnership side that talk to companies to establish the contracts.”

What’s next for UCSD Esports? The university will host its annual Triton Gaming Expo on May 29.