A fighting video game tournament between collegiate teams this weekend could bring together the next generation of San Antonio’s cybersecurity analysts, tech workers, and Department of Defense contractors.

That’s at least Port San Antonio’s hope. The industrial hub is funding the tournament as part of its growing effort to support the city’s emerging competitive gaming scene.

“Whether you’re Boeing, or the U.S. Air Force, or Rackspace, you’re trying to meet talent where they are,” said Will Garrett, vice president of cybersecurity at Port San Antonio. “Recruiters are finding that the talent is out there playing video games.”

The inaugural SA8 Collegiate Esports Invitational will be the first formal esports tournament between colleges and universities in the San Antonio region. It will also be the first event hosted by the Esports in Education Foundation, a new San Antonio nonprofit that seeks to use competitive gaming as a bridge to developing professional skills in young people.

Held remotely, the tournament – during which competitors will duke it out in the game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – will pit 40 students from eight institutions against each other with scholarship prizes up for grabs.

Participating universities are the University of Texas at San Antonio, Trinity University, University of the Incarnate Word, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the University of Texas at Austin, University of Houston, Schreiner University, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The teams bracket promises the winning crew a $1,000 award. A separate bracket for individuals will split $600 among the top three placements.

Trinity University’s Smash Bros. team captain, Chad Conway, said gathering the team together to practice in person has been complicated by the pandemic, but he and others have continued to train by playing online matches with each other, as well as with regularly paced competitive matches against other teams across the country.

Players on his team cultivate lightning-fast reflexes for the game.

One technique, called “parrying,” gives players a powerful advantage if they counter an enemy attack but requires nearly perfect timing. After blocking an attack, the player must drop their shield and counter-attack within the first five frames of animation – about 85 milliseconds.

More fundamentally, players practice “combos,” which are a sequence of attacks that can be done in rapid succession. Some players become so skilled that they can string together combos that go on infinitely, Conway said. The only way to counter an attack like this is to avoid getting hit by it in the first place.

The hand-eye coordination and team strategy practiced in these games can come into play in professional contexts, like piloting remote robotics, said sponsors at the Port.

STEM majors make up the majority of esports competitors, said Jackson Meyer, the president of Trinity University’s gaming club. Meyer is majoring in computer science and communications. Conway, the club’s Smash captain, is studying for a degree that combines business skills with analytic technology.

“A lot of the skillsets involved in gaming are absolutely viable in many careers paths,” said Sam Elizondo, who created the Esports in Education Foundation in 2019.

Elizondo, who also co-owns the LFG Cybercafe, a modern-day arcade and LAN center, said he started the foundation originally for high schoolers to encourage them to develop team skills and stay motivated in school, similar to sports teams that require students to meet grade standards.

In the past few years, he’s worked with the Port to connect them to the region’s growing esports community. At the Port’s 2019 Fiesta de los Niños, Elizondo helped organize the event’s gaming tent.

He said the SA8 Collegiate Esports Invitation is only the first to come of many events like it. “It’ll only get bigger,” he said.

The Port’s upcoming Innovation Center will feature an esports arena, the first of its kind in San Antonio. It will join others in Texas like Arlington’s Esports Stadium.

The tournament will be livestreamed 5-10 p.m. on the Esports in Education Foundation Twitch channel, as well as Facebook Live, and a litany of streams across different team and player pages. An official watch party will be hosted at Slackers Sports Bar at 7959 Fredricksburg Road.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.