Over the past several years, the University of Kentucky has grown increasingly involved with esports, a subgenre of sports reserved for video games like “Call of Duty,” “League of Legends” and “Super Smash Bros.”
One of the ways the university has done this is by sponsoring clubs like the UK Smash Cats Club, which hosts events where UK and BCTC students can compete with each other in games in the “Super Smash Bros” series.
On Sept. 18, the club hosted its sixth "Across the Glen" event, one of several recurring tournaments. The tournament was sponsored in part by the Engineering Living Learning Program at Woodland Glen III, which gave the club access to two classrooms on the first floor for the event. In addition, the LLP provided free pizza for all attendees.
The event was open to all UK and BCTC students. It was one of the largest tournament turnouts the Smash Cats have had, with 47 people registered as players. This is partially due to the tournament having no entry fee, unlike other tournaments the Smash Cats host.
Smash Cats events are run by club officers who act as tournament organizers (TOs). Taet Sanders, a sophomore pre-management major and Smash Cats treasurer, said he didn’t think anyone had experience as TOs before the event series.
“Last week we had a lot of problems with registration. We had some people who paid who didn't get into the bracket,” Sanders said. “We met up the next day, talked about what went wrong, and the next week it went very smoothly. We are learning as we go, but I think it’s been mostly a success."
The Smash Cats club has grown significantly in the last year. In September, they surpassed 50 attendees at one of their weekly tournaments, meeting the 50-person requirement to appear on the esports organization PGStats' weekly tournament tracker for large scale “Super Smash Bros” tournaments.
The Cornerstone complex, which opened in spring 2021, has significantly contributed to this recent success. Sanders said that the complex, which contains the UK esports lounge, a variety of restaurants and a 100-seat theater for events and classes, has provided a convenient meeting place.
"Over the last year, where there were a lot of restrictions on who could go over to what dorm and who could play with who, The Cornerstone was a common space where we could go without worrying about getting in trouble,” Sanders said. “A lot of the employees are always talking to people about different tournaments and events going on and getting people involved who come by."
The club’s growth is just beginning, said UK sophomore Mitchell LaTonzea, Smash Cats social media manager.
"On our Discord, we have several hundred former students, current students, and we are trying to expand into Twitter and other media," LaTonzea said.
The top eight finalists of "Across the Glen VI'' were LaTonzea, Ian Mottaleb, Anthony Lopez, Zach Cox, Aidan Perell, Chas Pemberton and Ricardo Mendoza. UK sophomore psychology major Isaac Oropeza was the winner of the event.
Oropeza has been playing for five years, beginning at a weekly tournament in Newport, Kentucky.
"The experience has been pretty amazing, actually,” Oropeza said. “Competing has given me many opportunities to travel and meet new people and is how I have met some of my closest friends."
These players come from various backgrounds, majors and lifestyles, but they've all found a place competing in this game. Anthony Lopez, a UK computer science major, said “Super Smash Bros”has been one of his favorite games for about a decade.
"I was at a Gamestop, and in this bargain bin there was this game with Pikachu and a Pokémon Trainer on the front of it called ‘Super Smash Bros: Brawl.’ I only knew of the Pokémonseries at the time, but it was enough to get me into the game," Lopez said. "It doesn't matter if the character you play is bad or low tier, but simply having a personal connection with that character makes winning and improving all the more worth it."
Despite being a competitive group, the Smash Cats try to remain accessible to newcomers and casual players. At Across the Glen, for example, the club played “Star Wars” on a projector in a nearby classroom to foster community between players and provide a space for players to relax between matches. However, the room was seldom used.
For many, Across the Glen was their first experience at a tournament. Cole Craig and his friends came together as newcomers.
"I expected two or three sweaty tryhards that never went outside, and everyone else were people who never played before," said Cole Craig. "None of these guys were sweaty or gross; they're just swag people."
The Smash Cats host a weekly tournament called "Don't Get Tilted" at the Cornerstone on South Limestone on Mondays at 6 p.m. For those looking for something more casual, they have also partnered with the esports club for monthly casual game nights.
As a part of the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s esports league, the Smash Cats will be participating in “Super Smash Bros Ultimate” “Crew battles.” Colleges will send teams of three to play against each other in consecutive matches, with nine lives total (three per player). This online tournament series will take place every Monday night at 8 p.m. from Sept. 27 until Nov. 15, with playoffs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.