Texas A&M Esports club shines as student-run sports club

In light of TAMU Maroon’s victory against fully funded teams, the club hopes for heightened university recognition
TAMU Maroon poses with the trophy after winning the College Valorant Championship on Sunday, June 9th.
TAMU Maroon poses with the trophy after winning the College Valorant Championship on Sunday, June 9th.
Photo by RSAA

Texas A&M has another championship-winning sports team. Completely student-run and with over 2,900 members in their Discord server, they might be the university’s best kept secret.

Esports, short for electronic sports, are an emerging field for student-athletes, with over $15 million available in scholarships as of 2018. Texas A&M Esports offers students opportunities to play with other students at multiple skill levels and play multiple titles, the most notable being Valorant.

Currently ranked 3rd in collegiate Valorant teams, TAMU Maroon, the competitive team for TAMU Esports, has recently won the College VALORANT Championship (CVAL) in a surprise 3-1 victory on June 9th.

The Maroon team is made up of five players, Nicholas “Nabber” Barrionuevo, Austin “austifrosti” Wevodau, Oliver “khs” Ko, Anthony “Bing” Huang, and Joseph “JoBa” Barker. 

Pierce Ray, an economics senior and the president of TAMU Esports, was especially impressed by Maroon’s performance.

“Going into this, I did not have hope. These other teams, they have full scholarship rosters playing against us,” Ray said. “We just have kids who have a lot of passion. Seeing those teams being beaten by us, I was shocked.”

Nicholas Barrionuevo, a senior Multidisciplinary Engineering major, is now in his third year playing Valorant for Texas A&M.

“This is the most prestigious thing we have done with the program… CVAL is run by RIOT Games, the developer of Valorant. This tournament series started last year, so this year it was more or less, ‘Okay, there’s good money in this, we’re going to keep playing in it.’” Barrionuevo said.

In preparation for the CVAL championship, players dedicated hundreds of hours of practice and playing over the semester to match the professional standards other schools are able to maintain.

“We have 15 different game titles, and on average they have three to four teams. We’re pushing everyone to try and be the best, we want everyone to play every night and practice,” Ray said. “It’s two hours, and they’ll have a game every week on Friday…that’s what they’ll do for the entire year. They’ll play in these leagues, and then they’ll have play-offs…like a normal bracket.”

For winning 1st place, Maroon was awarded $5,000 in scholarships. Maroon’s listed winnings currently are listed as over $19,000, with awards dating back to 2022

“To see them win this title, how valuable this title is, knowing what other schools would do to have this title…to see us pull it out having zero [university] funding, it’s just amazing to see,” Ray said.

Texas A&M’s esports teams have undergone a recent renaissance since the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an interest in online gaming and esports.

“Coming in after [COVID-19], where it was rock bottom… it took a little bit but we did start growing our members back… we have been jumping up. We boosted our member count by 200%,” Ray said.

Barrionuevo also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the major factors behind his desire to play Valorant.

“The beta for Valorant came out in April of 2020… being at home a lot, me and my friends just signed up for the beta, and we eventually got a key to the game. I’ve been playing ever since,” Barrionuevo said.

Valorant is currently one of the most popular online games, reaching 5 million daily players in early 2022 and holding steady since then. With an active player base and robust anti-cheating software, Valorant is rife with tournaments and opportunities for young esports athletes.

“I was already mildly competing in the year before I got to A&M, playing with my friends in tournaments. Once I got to A&M, the first thing I did was hunt down our esports team, and try and play for that.” Barrionuevo said.

Maroon’s strategy has shifted over the years according to Barrionuevo, from using brute force to mechanically outplay their opponents, to now understanding the game state and using strategy to methodically overcome their opponents.

Ray and the players are now looking forward to maintaining their champion status from their historic win.

“It makes me motivated, ecstatic, to see my teams winning these types of [championships], usually Texas A&M is one of those teams that…we qualify, but you’re never going to see us getting first place out of it,” Ray said.

As for the future of TAMU Esports, Ray said he hopes to expand the relationship between the club and the university, ultimately culminating in the completion of the Texas A&M Esports facility.

“…there’s constant talk of what it would look like in the end. What I would really like to see is Texas A&M to officially recognize the program…our program is completely students, no faculty is involved,” Ray said. “I would hope that in the future, we can get more faculty involvement, more people who really care about it.” 

“Nobody really cares about esports, nobody really knows about it…for some kids, it is considered a sport to them,” Ray said. “Some people aren’t gifted with the ability to run miles everyday, some kids are gifted with these abilities in the games, which can open doors for them in life.”

Barrionuevo hopes to incorporate the skills he has learned from playing competitive Valorant into his future career in engineering, and hopes that TAMU Esports can open doors for everyone to enjoy a new sport.

“We’re trying to give everyone the possibility to play…we have teams for every rank, from top rank to middle rank… our game-changers team, for women or marginalized genders… we want everyone to play,” Barrionuevo said. 

In light of the underdog victory in the CVAL championship, Barrionuevo wants to focus on improving the team for future students to enjoy.

“I hope that I can be able to swing my teamwork and strategy, the ability to put work in and get things out…it’s a lot of work. We don’t have coaches, we don’t have facilities, things that other teams have. Everything we have to do is by ourselves and for ourselves.”

Texas A&M Esports’ events, calendar and Discord can be found here.

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