The University of Hawaii Maui College dived into the world of gaming with two dozen students vying for spots on the school’s first-ever e-sports team.

The global reach of collegiate gaming was on full display as 24 students battled 5-on-5 in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (“CS: GO”) on Nov. 1 in the Pilina Building student lounge.

Individuals who helped their team win certainly made a positive impression on Al Paschoal, UHMC’s director of student life, who is in charge of all things e-sports. Although he recognized individual talent and skill, Paschoal will approve only 15 of the student competitors to make up UHMC’s inaugural e-sports roster.

“Overall, talent and team synergy are more important than one individual score,” Paschoal said from his office Tuesday. “Winning did not guarantee anybody anything. We want players who can move up and down that ladder of competition so we can mix and match them depending on who the opponent may be.”

Paschoal is expected to announce the official team roster Monday.

UHMC aligned itself with the National Association of Collegiate eSports last spring. “It’s a nice fit for our program and because it allowed us to make a very smooth transition for not just the gaming aspect, but for academics, for eligibility, for recruiting and for scholarships down the road,” Paschoal said. “Those are the things that we are excited about.”

UHMC students got to experience gaming at its best at the tryouts, where Paschoal set up eight new PC rigs with 42-inch curved monitor screens.

“These are high-quality, high-speed, high-gaming computers that have been inspected by our tech department to be the best in all categories as far as what a gamer would need to excel on. Our goal and intent were to have rigs that students would not normally have access to,” he said.

Two years ago, Hawaii Pacific University became the first gaming university with a collegiate e-sports arena in Hawaii. In addition, HPU is also the first college to offer competitive gaming scholarships for e-sport athletes in the 50th state.

HPU’s eSports Arena in the Aloha Tower Marketplace will host a League of Legends Tournament, Nov. 15-23. The winning team will be awarded a $15,000 scholarship ($3,000 per player). For more information, go to hpu.edu/esports/tournament.

“It’s really starting to grow on the global scale. E-sports is the biggest sport in the world right now; their national championship sold out a 90,000-seat arena,” Paschoal said. “It’s something that is here to stay, and it’s legit.”

Part of the appeal is not having to travel to compete.

“We could compete internationally without traveling, while there are some tournaments that are set up at a specific venue,” he said.

Paschoal said UHMC hopes to host its own international tournament in the future.

“School-wise, we are reaching out and creating sister schools in Japan and the Philippines, so we want to host our own international competition.

“Hopefully, we can continue to build it and use e-sports as a draw to attract students to come here, and down the road we would like to be able to offer tuition assistance, scholarships. That is definitely in the big picture for us. How we get there is something we want to make sure we are doing right,” he said.

Paschoal predicts things will become more structured in the future. Students might have SAT or ACT guidelines to adhere to or perhaps a minimum GPA.

“We want to open the doors to as many students as possible, but we also have to make sure that we have structures in place academically. Education has to be at the forefront.”

One of the reasons UHMC took this leap of faith so confidently is because of the school’s Strategic Gaming Society club, now in its sixth year.

“That whole dynamic was already built in, so lots of students are helping us and advising us as to what is the best approach and what is the best games,” Paschoal said.

“This is a world that, if we are not careful, can consume you,” he said. “This has to be prioritized with students’ home environment, school environment and understand on the pecking order where gaming lands. We’re trying to create a fantastic program here, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of education.”

But make no mistake about it. “Plain and simple, this is the future,” he said.


Rodney S. Yap has been covering Maui sports for more than 30 years. Email him at ryap2019@gmail.com.