I was chatting with the team captains from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina when all of a sudden one of them said, “You’re the Volunteers, and this is a Lan. I get it now.” And one of the others leaned over and said, “It’s okay, it took me like a month to see it too.”
Lesson 1: I pronounce it “Vol-Lan.” It’s not readily apparent to everyone who doesn’t go to UT that our mascot is the Volunteers.
Those aren’t the only lessons in this piece but it sounded like a good introduction. This past weekend UTK Esports hosted its first ever large-scale esports tournament, Volan. For two days, we tested the limits and capabilities of the ballroom in the brand-new Student Union.
We connected over 200 gaming PCs, laptops and consoles to power and the UT network, turned them on, and then 394 energetic esports athletes who came from all over the southeast competed in 13 different video game competitions. Thanks to the generosity of OIT and facilities services, all those machines were able to demonstrate the incredible scene that is attending a live esports event.
Lesson 2: Modern Lans aren’t really Lans anymore.
For those unaware, a Lan is the shorthand for Local Area Network, which is what gets created when you connect many computers together in a single place.
Before there was Origin, Battle.net and Steam, the best way to play computer games was to take your desktop PC to your friend’s house, gather your other friends and connect your computers together to play games against each other. At Volan, we sought to achieve the same feeling, but playing games through services like Origin and Steam.
In the center of the ballroom lay eight rows of tables. Competitors from all over brought their giant high-end gaming rigs to UT to play games with friends and compete for top prizes.
We filled the south end of the ballroom with dozens of Nintendo Switches and Sony Playstations, so some 150 competitors could battle it out in games like “Smash Brothers Ultimate,” “Tekken 7” and “Street Fighter.” Right under the giant seal of the university, we laid out 10 laptops powered by Republic of Gamers (ROG), so some of our friends in the SEC and Tennessee could battle in “League of Legends”(and unlike their football team, Alabama was able to take home the crown this time).
In all, roughly 400 people competed in games with old and new friends over the course of two grueling days of competition.
Lesson 3: Esports are best experienced in person.
Nowadays, we get so accustomed to playing against faceless strangers on the Internet. That team you just beat are some kids somewhere else in the world. And while that can be fun, esports at its finest is when you can look across the room, or to the seat next to you, and see your competitor.
When you can literally feel the nerves and effort you and your teammates are putting into the game. When the other team yells from down the aisle because of their success, you turn it up a notch trying to get the win. There is no good way to describe the feeling you have as a spectator when you hear the yells of encouragement.
People traveled from southern Georgia, Mississippi, west Tennessee, South Carolina and northern Virginia. When I asked one person, “Why come all that way for something like this?” the reply was simple: “It was a Lan, and we could play with our friends.”
The prizes weren’t big, but the atmosphere and camaraderie was.
Lesson 4: Students, parents and fans are proud to be a part of this.
When you go to a Lan or an esports event in person, its hard to fully grasp everything that is happening.
It isn’t necessarily the easiest spectator sport when there are hundreds of people all playing different games. But something is clear: The people who come want to be there and they are proud to have an opportunity to compete.
As a parent, I hear worries from other parents and media like, “My child just sits there playing too many video games; why can’t they be more productive?” But that wasn’t the case at Volan.
I saw proud parents, beaming over their child placing top 20 in a 100-person tournament, the same as if they had made the Sweet 16 in basketball.
I saw coaches getting on their players for not focusing in on the match.
I met student leaders, who spent many sleepless nights applying for school funding to send them to Knoxville, talking at length with other student leaders about how they can do this at their school.
I saw dozens of teams proudly donning school colors and brands to show off where they were from.
I saw our own Volunteers working tirelessly for two straight days to ensure everyone who competed or simply watched was enjoying themselves.
And I saw Ole Miss drive their charter bus into the loading dock to unload dozens of pieces of equipment as if the SEC championship were on the line this weekend.
Lesson 5: Volan was just the beginning.
Volan was three years in the making, eight months of solid planning, hundreds of letter to sponsors, multitudes of meetings with university administrators, countless hours of student leadership efforts, thousands of messages sent to friends across the region and two full days of the Volunteer spirit in action.
And that was just for the first attempt. Get ready for the future, because Volan 2020 is going to be something else.
We want to give a special thank you to the many offices on campus that helped make Volan a success, including facilities services, the office of information technology, the Tickle College of Engineering, Voltech and university and student union event services.
We also want to thank the sponsors of Volan that made our event a success: Republic of Gamers, Monster Energy, Nvidia, Collegiate Star League, Redragon, the Tennessee Smokies, Discord and Brandon’s Awards.
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