The Daily Gamecock

Esports, all-star games among new events planned for intramurals this fall

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION— Two Nintendo joy cons sit on a table before a game of Mario Kart on August 28, 2022.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION— Two Nintendo joy cons sit on a table before a game of Mario Kart on August 28, 2022.

USC students will have the chance to experience a revamped intramural experience this fall. Esports, all-star games and individual skills challenges are all being added to draw more students to intramurals. 

Students can sign up to participate in either "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" or "Mario Kart 8" competitively this semester. Each game will have two free-to-play tournaments. 

The esports industry has become increasingly popular in recent years. According to data collected by Newzoo, a video game data collection company, between 2019 and 2021 the number of people around the globe that watch esports grew from around 398 million to 465 million. 

“With COVID happening, there were so many more people that turned to esports as a way to still watch something competitive,” sports operation intern Greg Sander said. “We're trying to jump on that, and our purpose is to increase the student life.”

This addition has opened the door for a new demographic to get involved with intramural sports on campus.

Third-year criminology and criminal justice student Alexis McCutchen has never participated in an intramural event before. After hearing from a friend that there was going to be a Mario Kart tournament this year, she quickly signed up to join. 

"He was like 'oh my gosh, they are having a 'Mario Kart' tournament,' and knowing that and knowing me because I do play it a lot, I was like 'Alexis, you better sign up right now,'" McCutchen said.

"Smash Bros." and "Mario Kart" are both easy games to learn. The little experience required to enjoy is part of what Sander said led to the decision to offer those two games.

“If you aren't competitive in the game, you can still play it and have fun,” Sander said.

 Not everyone plays in these competitions to win. Some students, like McCutchen, sign up just to have fun.  

"I think I'm really just going to have a good time and see the competition, but I'm going to try my best and if I end up winning, that would be pretty cool," McCutchen said.

The exact details on the additions of All-star games and skills challenges, similar to those done by the NFL and MLS, are still unclear. 

Finding ways to determine who will participate in the events is still being discussed amongst the intramural staff, but it will most likely be on a sport-by-sport basis. More information on these events will be available as the season gets closer. 

“We'll get more into it as the seasons of those sports get into it,” Sander said. “What we're thinking is, the teams that make, we'll say the top 16 in the playoffs at the end, each of them will nominate a player from their team to participate, and that's for the skills challenge.”

Adding these events will add another form of competition for participants. Teams will not just compete for playoff spots, but individuals will compete for a shot at participating in one of these extra events. 

“We're just trying to add a level of excitement around our sports and draw more people in,” assistant sport manager for soccer Jack Jennings said. “If I had seen this freshman year, I probably would've signed up for like five different sports and tried to play an all-star game.”

Along with new events, the intramural team said it will be enhancing the experience around championship games.  

Play-by-play announcers and live streaming games on social media are potential ways the intramural team will draw an audience. Instead of playing in a league title game that has the atmosphere of an open gym with referees, teams that earned their way to the championship game will play in a much more spectator-friendly environment. 

“If you get to the championship night, then we think it should be a great experience for you,” Jennings said. “We're like announcing the game and we have crowds and cheer you on and stuff, and it'll be like a better experience.”

Enhancing the participant's experience is what all of these changes are about. More events and games are being planned for after fall to reach an even broader demographic. Sander said that next semester Rocket League, an arcade-style soccer game but with cars, could be added and other games will be considered based on survey feedback. 

Expanding beyond the two current esports currently available is important to bringing more students like McCutchen to intramurals. 

"I believe it would be amazing to add more esports ... especially here at USC, like when you're bringing freshman in, or the underclassmen, some of the upperclassmen like me, you'll want to see more played than just the regular sports played at the gym," McCutchen said.

Discussion on new tournaments and contests to add will continue while the intramural team tries to find games that will help reach everyone on campus.

“We're looking to expand even more and more as we go year by year,” Jennings said. “You can find something for everybody here, and if you can't, then we're looking to add that.”

Correction (Aug. 30 at 3 p.m.): A previous version of this story included a graphic that incorrectly displayed prices for participating in intramural sports. The story has since been updated with a graphic that displays the correct information.