Victor Ly has a vision: One day, video gamers will be accepting scholarships to ply their craft at colleges and universities across the county, and the pursuit of those dreams will be widely acknowledged as legitimate.
More than a decade ago, Ly was just another kid in Red Deer, trying to share his love of video games.
He remembers vividly holding court at the Red Deer Public Library, in the teen section, hosting a handful of people in his very first Esports event.
“With those events being in Red Deer, I reached out through some social media platforms that existed at that time, and we ended up getting some attention from people across Alberta… that was the start of what has now grown to be a pretty significant Esports community in Alberta,” said the Hunting Hills High School grad.
“Over those last 15 or so years, we were doing events that have grown from library settings and our parent’s basements to now filling community and convention halls.”
Ly, along with co-founder Brad Jones, started the Alberta Esports Association, an organization that is dedicated to growing and developing an understanding and passion for video game playing across the province.
Since they started the organization five years ago, it has grown to more than 500 competitors, and this summer, they were recognized as a non-profit organization.
“When we first started, we had no fantasies that Esports would be a thing. Even the term Esports is relatively new. All we knew back then is we wanted to play games with our friends and compete in our own tournaments,” said Ly, who is an instructor at Mount Royal University’s Esports program.
Esports, which are competitions using video games, has quickly grown into a billion-dollar industry globally, selling out arenas and stadiums for tournaments, and the passion has flourished here in Alberta too.
This summer, the Alberta Esports Association got into discussions with the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association about potentially teaming up and getting college students to represent their schools in competitions.
“One of the benefits with Esports, especially during the pandemic, is the fact you can participate online and these communities can exist and they can have activities in an online setting,” he said.
“They reached out to us with our expertise and experience, to help support them in delivering these events, starting with the trial pilot project. The relationship that we’re filling is effectively what you would get from other sports organizations.”
On Nov. 21, the two associations will host a trial event, called Alberta Collegiate Smash. The event will feature competitors playing the popular Nintendo title Super Smash Brothers.
“(We chose the) Super Smash Brothers Ultimate title as the launch event, just because there is some existing momentum for that particular title, and it’s always been one of our more popular titles.
Obviously, with Esports, there are a multitude of titles we will be exploring past this trial run, to see which will have an appetite,” Ly said.
Although Ly doesn’t know exactly what the interest is in Esports at the collegiate level, he knows two things:
First, that many colleges in the province already have Esports clubs that are not officially associated with the school.
Second, he started an Esports club at the University of Alberta called U of A Smash Club, specifically for the Super Smash Brothers title, which ballooned into one of the largest student community weekly events.
Before the pandemic, there were about 130 participants at the peak, and attendance still averages about 90 people.
The growth comes with a vision: to see the sport legitimized through work at the grassroots level, as well as through the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association – with the hopes that one day, that kids can turn a passion for video games into something tangible, just like Ly did.
“We do have long-term goals if this is a success, and that’s kind of where we’re really excited,” he said.
“It’s just the shared vision and values … in terms of supporting communities at a grassroots level and facilitating pathways for their development as competitors, but also providing them with opportunities to legitimize gaming and find communities for them to engage with and create the infrastructure that’s needed for a healthy and safe environment to engage in.”
For more information on the Nov. 21 event, check out smash.gg/tournament/alberta-collegiate-smash-acac-collegiate-esports-kick-off/details.