Triton esports hosts Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Tournament

by | Aug 28, 2023

The top four competitors secured esports scholarships, and the top eight finishers earned coveted spots on the Smash Bros. team.
ESports coach Bovey Zhang , Top left, watches University of Missouri-St. Louis students inside the new Esports Arena in the Pilot House for the first Triton Esports Super Smash Brothers Ultimate Tournament on August 24th, 2023. The top 4 players secured an esports scholarship.

Triton esports Coach Bovey Zhang (top left) looks on as two UMSL students compete during Thursday’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament in the new Esports Arena in the Millennium Student Center. The top four competitors secured esports scholarships. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

There was palpable excitement in the air Thursday night in the new Esports Arena on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus as students gathered to do battle – albeit in the digital realm.

UMSL students streamed into the new arena, located in the former Pilot House space on the ground level of the Millennium Student Center, for Triton esports’ Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Tournament. Students also had the chance to win a Nintendo Switch during a raffle.

The new esports program was founded this summer, and Thursday served as an introduction to the UMSL community. For the past several months, Bovey Zhang has guided the development of the program as its inaugural coach and is working to build a varsity roster of about 20 players, who will compete in highly organized, competitive, multiplayer video games.

“Right now, this is our soft launch,” Zhang said. “We want to see if the students are engaging in this and that they want esports. Next week, we’re going to have open tryouts where you compete in other games such as League of Legends, Valorant and FIFA. That’s Aug. 28 to Sept. 1. This is the soft opening, and then we’ll move onto the grand opening later this fall.”

Initially, the program will focus on four games: League of LegendsValorantSuper Smash Bros. Ultimate and FIFA. In the future, Zhang would like to further grow the varsity team with players also competing in Call of DutyRocket LeagueBrawlhalla and Counter-Strike, and he imagines recruiting between five and 10 players per game title.

Zhang said he wanted to kick things off with a Super Smash Bros. tournament because of the existing, prominent Smash community in St. Louis.

“I wanted to start with that and kind of transition with the community, and then branch out to other games like FIFA because we’re partnering with CITY SC,” he said.

The community didn’t disappoint. Thirty-eight students registered to compete in the tournament for a chance to earn a spot on the Triton esports team. The top four competitors secured esports scholarships, and the top eight finishers earned coveted spots on the Smash Bros. team.

Many of the competitors showed up early Thursday to socialize and to squeeze in a little extra practice before their official matches. They settled in at several gaming stations – TVs and computer monitors hooked up to Nintendo Switches – set up throughout the space, sitting in gaming chairs emblazoned with Triton esports logos.

Three of those competitors were students Jared Lundak, Brady Maher and Lucas De La Pena. John Granicke was there as well to support his friends as a spectator. The group thought it would be fun to test their skills in the tournament.

“I heard on Triton Connect this was happening, and it sounded really exciting,” Maher said. “We never had an esports team here, so I wanted to check it out.”

Joseph Lee, Asian man in red shirt, concentrates during a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate match

Student Joseph Lee (left) concentrates during a match. Lee took first place in the tournament, earning an esports scholarship. (photo by Derik Holtmann)

Lundak said he has played Super Smash Bros. Ultimate sporadically over the past two years, while Maher and De La Pena said they’ve been playing regularly since the game’s release in 2018. Maher and De La Pena were optimistic about their first-round matches, but Lundak was less confident about his chances.

“Not very good,” Lundak said, commenting on his odds in the tournament. “But I think I’m going to have a lot of fun getting washed.”

As game time approached, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Enrollment and Career Advancement Reggie Hill took the stage in the back of the space to commend Zhang for his work to build the program. Zhang spoke next as students cheered him on from the floor, chanting “Speech! Speech! Speech!”

“This moment wouldn’t have been possible without the support of each and every one of us today,” he said. “I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Reggie Hill for believing in the power of esports and giving me the opportunity to lead this remarkable endeavor.”

Zhang also promoted the open tryouts from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 before the National Association of Collegiate Esports season begins in November. He added that Triton esports will also include noncompetition roles in animation, event management, graphic design and video editing for students interested in building skills related to gaming.

After the speeches concluded, the event’s MCs began announcing the first-round matches. The tournament consisted of simultaneous head-to-head, best-of-three matches between two players in the popular fighting game. Each round, players were given three lives to defend during a 7-minute time limit.

The noise and excitement quieted down as competitors got down to business.

They sat in deep focus, concentrating as familiar characters from Nintendo video game franchises – as well as characters from other video game developers such as Capcom, Konami, Sega and Square Enix – battled it out on their screens. The characters flitted across the screens, inflicting cartoonish damage on each other as each tried to knock the other off precarious platforms. The silent concentration was broken by occasional outbursts of joy and frustration.

Zhang made rounds through the space to observe players during the event. He specifically focused on each players’ attitude during the matches and looked for even-keeled temperaments.

“It’s more of a mental sport versus a physical one,” Zhang said. “So, there’s a lot of mental game behind it.”

At the end of the night, Joseph Lee emerged victorious. Riley Kempf finished in second place, while Joshua Cully and Michel F. Brun took third and fourth place respectively. Each earned a scholarship and a place on the new team.

The tournament was an auspicious start for the program, which only promises to grow. A formal launch for the program will be held later this fall.

“We’re going to open the doors to our arena to the public and the local community, inviting them to share the joy of our growing esports hub,” Zhang said. “Once again, I want to extend my gratitude to each one of you for being a part of this journey with your support. UMSL’s esports program is set to make waves. Let’s continue to embrace the spirit of teamwork and passion that defines the gaming world.”

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