“Duty” calls: UTC Gamer draws national attention to Esports team

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“Great church!

“The house downstairs!”

“Behind the tree!”

“Good, good, good!”

“Pleasant.”

“Good kill.”

Words are barked out as the team of four soldiers maneuver through the small village. Enemy soldiers are everywhere, and they are all trying to kill the team. In some cases, they succeed.

The WWII skirmish takes place in the virtual world of “Call of Duty”. The deaths are temporary, but the four-man team led by Ryan “Slim” Johnson takes the game seriously. Each is a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, so the school’s esports honor is at stake.

Johnson, a rising senior majoring in finance, was named one of the top 10 Returning College “Call of Duty” players in the nation by eFuse, a website that tracks college esports teams. Prior to the start of the 17-game season in January, the UTC team was ranked 22nd in the Top 25 chosen by the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the largest collegiate esports league in North America.

In both cases, Johnson was credited.

“The reason I find his presence so impactful is because he single-handedly carried this team to multiple wins. I’ve seen this team compete and they have great potential,” the columnist wrote. ‘eFuse Houssam “Sam” A. I Pali, assistant esports coach at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Johnson, who said he’s been playing video games since around 2007 – “Oh, wow,” he mutters after figuring out the timeline – shrugs in honor, saying it’s a work of art. ‘crew.

He made the UTC team in 2021. With the exception of Johnson, all four players on the 2022 team were new.

Squad member selection isn’t just about someone approaching Johnson and saying, “Hey, I want to play.”

“Obviously the skill of the guns is very, very important. If they can shoot, well, that’s important,” he explained.

Personality is also critical.

“You don’t want someone who is super cocky and arrogant. It’s always a team game at the end of the day.

The team all wear headsets with wrap-around microphones. The ability to communicate — very quickly — is key, Johnson said.

“In ‘Call of Duty’ everything happens fast, so you run and die, and you’re constantly telling your teammates where people are, what’s happening on the map and everything. Communication is a really important thing.

The 2022 team – Johnson, Chase “Red Chase” Daffron, Zach “Cliq” Moses, Alex “Superior” Davis – are all “Call of Duty” experts. During play, their coordinated movements are nearly impossible to track as they dash down stairs, climb ladders, jump out of windows, and fire weapons nearly nonstop.

In a game, the conversation is a series of barked phrases that can be difficult to decipher for anyone unfamiliar with “Call of Duty” lingo. Among them:

“He is weak.” An enemy has only a little life left. Kill easily.

“A shot.” The enemy only needs one bullet to be killed.

“I died so quickly.” Explanatory.

Campus competition: esports take off

Electronic sports, competitive electronic games, have exploded on college campuses across the country over the past 10 years, including at UTC.

According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the nation’s largest collegiate esports league, 175 colleges or universities now have teams.

There are seasons, championship tournaments, bragging rights.

There are Top 25 rankings for teams and players.

Cindy Strine, director of recreation at UTC, said COVID-19 has caused interest in esports to skyrocket on campus.

“Gaming culture has exploded and come to the fore during COVID,” she said. “As we looked for ways to keep students engaged, the esports program grew.

“Last spring, our students started playing in the varsity ‘Call of Duty’ league and quickly recruited talented players online to come to UTC,” she continued. “Our gaming community continues to grow. The culture of gaming and esports has been driven by student interest and engagement.

For students at some universities, esports even offers a way to help pay for tuition in the form of scholarships. The Ohio State University, Kent State University, University of Texas at Arlington, and University of California at Irvine all have esports scholarships. Currently, UTC does not.

Daffron, a UTC senior in computer science and a member of the University’s “Call of Duty” team, received a $6,000-per-year esports scholarship to Concord University in West Virginia. Born and raised in West Tennessee, he transferred to UTC in 2021, explaining that $6,000 doesn’t go far when out-of-state tuition, plus housing and meal plans add up over $27,000 each year.

Moses, a sophomore on the UTC team, received a $3,000-a-year esports scholarship to Tennessee Wesleyan University before transferring to UTC. The Wesleyan team was brand new and just wasn’t very good, he said.

Esports is also a recruiting tool, Strine said.

“They showed the students around our play areas,” she said. “For serious gamers and casual gamers, this is a platform where they can easily connect with others on campus.”

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This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.

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