This is a follow-up article to the PAL article. If you would like to know more about PAL and how it got started, click here.
On March 27, OKC PAL hosted its first-ever esports fundraiser, a Rocket League tournament featuring professional teams. Not only was the exciting tournament hosted by Equinox with professional shoutcasters, but it also included fantastic panels that discussed the past, current, and future state of esports in Oklahoma.
The First Panel
The first panel, hosted by Brittany Ward the OKC PAL athletic director, was a discussion with police sergeant Joe Peña (OKC PAL Esports coach), Kate Swearingen (Esports Head Coach at Edmond Memorial High), Mike Agular (Director of OU Esports), and Dr. David Hanan (VP of Operations for Equinox).
In this panel, the guests discussed the current state of esports for lower public education. Swearingen provided great insight into Oklahoma’s public education involvement in esports.
Swearingen is the head esports coach at Edmond Memorial High. Currently, Edmond Memorial High is part of PlayVS, an organization that provides tournaments for students, as well as the Oklahoma Esports League.
The Oklahoma Esports League is a league of Oklahoma public schools including Grant and Putnam City. It is a non-profit organization looking to connect students through the power of esports.
“It’s not just about playing video games,” Swearingen stated. She is connecting students who are separated by the pandemic as well as personalities that may not have connected without the help of esports.
Mike Agular and Sgt. Joe Peña also agreed with this. “Esports is a great equalizer on many fronts,” Mike stated. It allows for any gender, race, ethnicity or body type to connect and compete.
On a similar note, Sgt. Peña explained the PAL organization is providing students with resources to compete and connect through esports. This is where the funds raised through this tournament would go: to help students be able to connect with each other and enjoy healthy competition.
Dr. Hanan spoke about Equinox’s recent development of STEM programs. This would allow students to learn about STEM through playing video games.
You can watch the full conversation here: https://youtu.be/tMPKgGXr9OQ
Oklahoma public school students can definitely expect to see a rise in esports programs throughout the state. But how did esports get to where it is in Oklahoma today?
The Second Panel
The second panel answered that question. Mike Agular hosted a discussion between Oklahoma esports veterans, including Jack Counts (CEO of Getrect Gaming Club), Rashard Hutchins (Owner/Operator of Game Over Entertainment), Ricky McNeal (CEO of HXC Gaming Events), and Pooyan Nikjou (an independent esports consultant).
These professionals gave great insight into their various tournaments that they hosted as well as how far Oklahoma esports has come. They also gave tips for anyone who wanted to connect in the esports scene and/or run their own esports tournament.
Tournaments such as SuperBitWars and organizations such as Sooner Smash Bros. became an inspiration for OU’s own esports organization. Pooyan, the founder of Sooner Smash Bros. described how exciting it was for Sooner Smash Bros. to join up with a growing esports organization.
They also talked about how esports was able to give them passion and genuine connection. All of them developed lasting relationships throughout their careers.
The audience was able to ask questions of the panelists. They answered how to effectively start a tournament and how to join the esports community.
You can watch the whole interview here: https://youtu.be/kEIbF_cq0bU
There were 12 teams that competed in this exciting tournament, including my friends and sibling. All levels of players played, from PAL esports members to Equinox’s own professional team.
Oculus ran the tournament. He volunteered to organize brackets and oversee team play.
The bracket was a double elimination and lasted most of Saturday. Equinox streamed various games, with many happening in the background as there was much Rocket League to be done.
In the end, team Hey Bro got the gold, with Eclipse Esports in 2nd and Grid Crusaders in 3rd. The winnings were $360 and HyperX Alpha Cloud headsets, $150 and a set of the same headphones to 2nd, and $90 to third.
As I said, my sibling, Drew Marshall, and my friends competed as well under the name Slushy’s Kitchen. Asking them about their experience, they all said they had a fun time and hope to see the tournament make a return.
“It was nice that it was a fundraiser but we’d need a bigger turnout than what we had,” Drew commented about the future of the tourney. They were glad to help out a great cause and hope to see the tourney make a comeback, but also hope to improve turnout.
My friend, Logan Taylor, also felt similar. As a player, he thought it was cool that there were professional teams but also hopes that more non-professional players will join in if OKC PAL decides to another Rocket League tourney.
I’ve got my fingers crossed with Drew and Logan that another tourney will happen. It can only get better from here!
For their first esports tournament, OKC PAL did a great job. In the end, the tournament raised $8000! With these funds, OKC PAL can continue to provide connections and competition for students across Oklahoma City.
You can watch full tournament here:
The Future of OKC PAL
With the tournament under wraps, we now looked towards the future of the OKC PAL esports program. I asked Sgt. Peña, Brittany, and Mike about their ideas for the future of this program.
Sergeant Peña is hoping PAL with continue to support the sports program by providing resources (such as consoles and games) to kids who could not afford these things otherwise. One way he hopes to combat this is by having a dedicated esports arena or practice space.
Brittany hopes that the program will become large enough for each school to have its own team, as well as possibly putting more support into high school teams. She also hopes to expand the broadcasting that esports has been doing to actual sports, allowing for students to become commentators and camera workers for sports as well.
Mike hopes to expand into different games, as well as expanding opportunities to students. This includes using video games in other career fields, such as social work and journalism.
Above all, they will all continue to put their full support and heart into this program. The Rocket League fundraiser tournament is a testament to that.
I was blown away by the tourney and panels. Everything was so well put together all through the efforts of all of the leaders, panelists, and players.
I had so much fun watching and chatting; it was extremely cool to see teams of all skill levels compete and learn more about esports in Oklahoma. Here’s to the continued support of students and esports!