Full Send: Venezuelan University Joins Emerging Esports Scene

While some Russian investors are forming a team in El Yaque, one of Venezuela’s main universities just started to train professional gamers. What’s going on?

Photo: El Ucabista

The world of esports continues to grow. According to Newzoo, one of the leading data providers on video game market research, compared to 2021, Esports audiences will grow 8.7% reaching 532 million and will generate over $1.38 billion in global revenue by the end of the year. This growth is being noticed by some of the world’s leading athletic organizations who are starting to seriously consider the potential of this emerging field. Last year, for instance, the IOC hosted the Olympic Virtual Series, the first Olympic-licensed esports event, a significant step towards an eventual inclusion as an Olympic sport. Later this month, FIFA will hold the 2022 FIFAe World Cup in Copenhagen to determine the best team in the popular soccer simulator FIFA. Esports are here to stay and Venezuela’s making strides in this field too.

There are interesting developments in the world of esports in Venezuela. When we think of the country’s relationship to videogames the first thing that comes to mind is the way games like RuneScape or Axie-Infinity have been used to navigate the country’s complicated economy. However, people sometimes think about the success stories of internationally recognized professional players like Alberto “Crumbz ” Rengifo or Paola Ojeda but beyond all of this, there are things happening that hint to the emergence of a robust esports world in the country. Recently, Carlos Jelambi released a documentary about Gorgeous Gaming, a Margarita-based team trained by Russian coaches trying to qualify for the professional Dota 2 league. There are similar emerging leagues in states like Zulia and there’s a Venezuelan Federation of Electronic Sports, one of the few in the world with the support of the National Olympic Committee, and even an FVF-sponsored eVinotinto soccer team. Now, the impact of esports in the country will grow further with the opening of the country’s first esports academy at Andrés Bello Catholic University. 

UCAB’s eSports Academy (Academia de eSports de la UCAB) opened its doors last week. Located on UCAB’s Montalbán campus, the academy is a sleek and stylish space that features dark rooms, comfy chairs, large displays, and bright neon lights that are characteristic of the contemporary “gamer aesthetic.” Inside of its modern exterior, the academy is powered by 20 gamer-style PCs, five Xbox and five PS5 consoles, some of the latest gaming systems available on the market. The academy kicked off activities on July 8th with an exhibition FIFA game played by four team members of the eVinotinto team and their coach. This facility marks a significant step in the development of esports in Venezuela and, according to its director Juán Sánchez, it showcases the increasing interest in the sport and begins to bridge the country’s 15-year gap with other nations in the field. 

It will allow students to rent spaces and equipment in order to participate in competitions and it will develop a university esports team under the banner of Lobos UCAB (UCAB Wolves) and a university league that will organize tournaments within the student body to promote the practice of esports.

The academy aims to further develop esports in the country by offering an innovative range of courses and programming broadly organized into three categories: Gaming, Pro Gaming, and  Game-Based Learning. Beginners can participate in courses in the Gaming category, which focuses on fundamentals and techniques for popular games like League of Legends, Fortnite, or Valorant. Those who want to become professional players can participate in more focused development programs in the Pro Gaming category to hone-in their skills and learn how to monetize them. Furthermore, the academy plans to promote two additional areas. It will allow students to rent spaces and equipment in order to participate in competitions and it will develop a university esports team under the banner of Lobos UCAB (UCAB Wolves) and a university league that will organize tournaments within the student body to promote the practice of esports.

However, the world of professional esports goes beyond grabbing controllers and destroying the opposing team’s Nexus base in League of Legends or becoming the last shooter standing in Fortnite. UCAB’s dean, the Jesuit priest and scholar Francisco José Virtuoso, said at the opening ceremony: “There is a world of knowledge tied to this type of performance, a world that even has to do with narrative and gameplay. This is a sports academy where you train and teach players, journalists, and referees.” There is a place in the academy for those who want to be part of the esports ecosystem but don’t want to be players. Students under the Pro Gaming category will be able to participate in the development of skills related to refereeing, coaching and managing, and even esports journalism. In addition, the academy facilities can be used by students and professors in other academic departments for courses that showcase the interconnection between esports and their respective disciplines. 

In fact, the academy is way more than just fun and games. Under its umbrella of offerings, the academy will feature courses, workshops, and consulting work that use video games to develop skills like leadership, strategic management, and abstract thinking. Among these, the academy plans to offer esport-based management courses, and an introductory class geared towards educators on the basics of the famous open-world game Minecraft so that they can implement the game’s educational tool: Minecraft education.

This is the same private university, founded by the Jesuits in the 1950s, with postgraduate studies in traditional matters like Theology and History, and with prestigious schools of Law and Journalism. However, in recent years, the school has also included some innovative programs like the economic and social research institute in charge of the ENCOVI survey and a very active branch of community work. In recent months, it added a fashion design program and now, an esports academy. UCAB has surely adapted to the crisis, finding different alleyways to fund higher education in Venezuela. Kudos.