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Sacramento State student, alumni play key role in growing esports industry

Members of the Sac State esports team competed in the second annual College Esports International (CESI) tournament Sept. 9-11 at Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. Created by Sac State alumni, CESI is a local startup that combines competitive gaming with education and job opportunities. (Courtesy CESI President Gordon Hinkle)
Sac State esports team members pose in a group on stage during a recent College Esports International (CESI) tournament at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
The second annual College Esports International (CESI) tournament was held Sept. 9-11 at Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento and featured 22 esports teams, including Sac State's, competing in League of Legends and Rocket League for $50,000 in prizes.

Pictured (from left to right): Anthony Breuer, Garret Learned, Arthur Erlandson, Peter Cao, Gabe Guerrero, Rafael Lopez, and Donna Walters. (Courtesy CESI President Gordon Hinkle)

Sacramento State senior Anthony Breuer felt like a pro walking through the technologically advanced Golden 1 Center early one recent Sunday morning.

He and the Sac State esports team waited in the media area before taking the stage to battle it out against gamers from all over the country.

“The whole experience was very cool,” Breuer, 22, said. “All the players competed on stage, and the game was projected onto the big screen. … It was what I imagined in my head growing up thinking about what I wanted to do in esports.

“It was really cool to actually be able to bring that to fruition.”

More than 20 teams from universities in New York, Oregon, and Utah, as well as UC Davis and Sac State, competed in the second annual College Esports International (CESI) tournament at the downtown Sacramento arena Sept. 9-11.

Sac State’s League of Legends team took fourth place.

Sacramento State alumni also were behind the creation of CESI, a Sacramento-based startup that combines competitive gaming with education and job opportunities in the fast-growing, multi-billion dollar esports industry.

“Our main goal was to bring in the education element to showcase to the students the opportunities they have,” said Gordon Hinkle, CESI president and Sac State alumnus. “We wanted to show them how they could utilize all their love and passion for gaming to pursue a career within the industry.”

Pandemic safety restrictions limited the 2021 event to 10 teams, and only players were allowed in the arena.

This year, 22 teams playing League of Legends and Rocket League battled for $50,000 in prizes, drawing more than 2,000 in-person spectators and another 5,000 streaming viewers.

Sponsors included the Sacramento Kings’ professional gaming team Kings Guard Gaming.

The tournament kicked off with a webinar featuring experts from Fortune 500 companies, highlighting the different job opportunities within the industry.

“A lot of times, students think they’re not good enough to go pro,” Hinkle said. “What they don’t realize is they don’t have to be.

“Esports is a $194 billion industry. It’s bigger than the movie and music industry combined. When they find out they can work in this area and use their passion for gaming, they get very excited.”

Job opportunities in esports extend from designing games to shoutcasting. Esports teams even have makeup artists and stylists to prepare competitors for being on camera.

“There’s digital marketing, broadcasting, and all the events set-up opportunities,” Hinkle said. “All these skill sets that students are gaining through their love of playing games are actually highly sought after by Fortune 500 companies.”

Most major universities have an esports club or team, Hinkle said. Many schools even offer scholarships to play on their teams.

“Big schools within the Pac-12 and other conferences across America are now actively seeking students at a high school age to play in collegiate games,” Hinkle said.

Esports has been growing in popularity for the last two decades, but it was particularly popular during the pandemic.

“You saw a huge growth of online activity just because students were using that as an arena to communicate and connect with people,” Hinkle said. “Even at the high school level, you saw this explosion in video game competitions and kids playing games as a way to connect.”

Sac State alumna and MBA student Donna Walters co-founded a recreational esports club and worked with the Big Sky Conference to create an esports league. The Sac State Esports Club – a University-branded team formed in 2019 – competed in the league’s inaugural conference and placed second.

Walters, who helped with both CESI tournaments, also put together the Cal State Esports Collective, connecting the esports communities at all 23 CSU campuses.

“We want to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students to reduce the college to career gap using esports, which is their passion,” Walters said. “Getting students connected all across the state, providing and finding opportunities for them, will give them the chance to build portfolios to show potential employers when they graduate.”

Now a senior Computer Science major, Breuer is weighing his career options and believes his background as an esports competitor will give him an edge in the job market.

“I’m undecided, but I’m kind of hoping it will take me somewhere in esports, which is a very broad field,” he said.

Breuer, who has been playing League of Legends since the eighth grade, competed in high school and served as the coach for the Sac State team in this year’s CESI tournament.

“It’s extremely engaging,” he said. “There’s not much downtime, so it’s very exciting.

“I get a lot of fulfillment out of the competition in the same way someone would get out of participating in a sport or any other sort of hobby. Losing feels terrible, but winning is great, and I like to chase that.”

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About Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State in 2022. A former newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee, she spent several years juggling freelance writing with being a mom. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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