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UH Esports brings home international gaming award

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UH esports team at the 2022 Esports Awards.

Esports at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa first began in 2018 as a competitive team, and then as a communications course.

Today, it's been named the collegiate program of the year by the globally recognized Esports Awards.

"It's very humbling to know that we're getting recognition in this way because it is sort of validation for the work that has been done," said Sky Kauweloa, UH's esports program director.

Kauweloa was also recognized as a finalist for Ambassador of the Year at the awards.

The Esports Awards began in 2016 to highlight and recognize the work within the video game industry. Every year, its popularity has grown, and now the event is a two-day award show.

"It's kind of, in many respects, like your Oscars or Emmys for the industry," Kauweloa said. "It's a who's who list across the board. So it is the premier awards granting body for the esports industry."

An expert panel and the public voted on the award. They took into account the competitive success of UH's esports teams, as well as its educational offerings and interaction with the industry.

For the past two years, the Overwatch League — a popular video game and its affiliated professional competitive league — held a tournament at UH Manoa. The tournament put the best teams from the U.S. and Europe, up against the best teams in Asia. The tournament has brought global recognition to the university and the state.

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University of Hawaiʻi
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UH Esports program director Sky Kauweloa

"Among all the different things that we had in that partnership with Overwatch League, the fact we're able to push through close to 40 students or more through the Overwatch League internships has drawn tremendous attention and continues to draw that attention," Kauweloa said.

While the recognition goes to UH, Kauweloa believes this is a big win for the larger esports community in the state. Although the multibillion-dollar esports industry is still solidifying its hold in the mainstream media and sports realm, Kauweloa believes there is huge economic gain for the state.

"The state really needs to recognize, in many different ways, that we very much are here, and now in the discourse of global esports," he said. "I don't think our voices can be ignored anymore. We're pulling off events. We're pulling off recognitions. We're pulling off experiences in a way that is grabbing global attention."

"I believe we have many more things that will continue to shock folks — to say esports in Hawaʻii is a significant part of our digital youth culture, and broadly digital culture in the state," he added.

Kauweloa hopes to expand UH's esports offerings to students throughout the state. He tells HPR he is meeting with department heads at other campuses to discuss next steps.

However, he doesn't want to create a separate esports major at the university. Kauweloa envisions integrating esports within existing study areas — such as marketing, business and technology.

UH Mānoa Esports Program Director Sky Kauweloa - Extended Interview
The Conversation - Dec. 21, 2022

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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