Algonquin Esports co-president Wil Warren (left) and Smash rep. Phong Ly (right) host weekly Smash Bros' nights on Thursdays. Photo credit: Meara Belanger

Every Thursday night in E206, a cacophony of button mashing, joystick thrashing and the occasional cry of victory transforms the room into an arcade.

This is where members of Algonquin College Esports club enjoy their weekly Smash Brothers Ultimate night. The event usually attracts dozens of the club’s almost 1,000 players, as well as some gamers from Ottawa and Carleton Universities.

Wil Warren is a twenty-five-year-old computer technician student in his second year. He runs Algonquin College Esports along with co-president Chris Beottcher. Warren says much of the club’s growth is owed to these weekly casual gaming nights.

“When I first joined, I think there was about 300 members,” he said. “Now we’re just shy of 1,000. So within a year, the interest definitely spiked. We’ll have these free Smash nights, and so people show up and play casually in a competitive setting, so Smash night’s been really successful with that.”

The game nights are organized in a semi-competitive nature. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. when players start to shuffle in to the makeshift gaming space — a large, mostly-empty room with four or five tables and perhaps 10 chairs.

The gamers scatter, divided between a handful of consoles hooked up to what few TV monitors E building could spare. At 7:30 p.m., something called “bracket” starts; the main event, where every player competes against one another.

Smash Bros. has been so popular in the Algonquin Esports community that Warren has appointed two Smash reps: second-year computer programming student Phong Ly and third-year computer systems security student Alex Kateginnis.

“Anyone can play it,” said Kateginnis, 24, who believes his job as Smash rep is to represent his game. “It doesn’t matter how good you are at Smash Brothers, just as long as you can have fun.”

Ly, 19, says it’s a fun game that everyone can relate to. “There’s items, there’s stuff going on on the screen like every two seconds, and it’s just nice seeing a new person come up and play Smash,” said Ly. “They’d say, ‘Oh, I know Kirby,’ or ‘I know Mario,’ so I feel like everyone can sort of relate.”

Although most of the interest now is in universally playable games like Smash Bros., Warren says the club didn’t start out like this.

“It was originally just a League of Legends club,” said Warren. “At the beginning there was a lot of interest for League of Legends, but as we started expanding, there definitely was interest all of a sudden for a bunch of different games: Smash Brothers, Counterstrike, Hearthstone. A bunch of games had interest.”

Warren says that although Algonquin Esports has some very impressive competitive teams playing games such as Overwatch and League of Legends, according to provincial rules in Ontario the teams don’t qualify to compete at the collegiate level.

“At the very basic, primal definition, nobody has one, but we’re all trying to,” said Warren. “We all do have teams and we try to treat them as if they’re under the definition.”

Warren hopes that with the help of the students’ association and a company called Tespa, which supports competitive gaming on college campuses, they can apply the varsity brand to Algonquin Esports.

“We actually kind of recently last semester learned about athletics through the SA, and so that’s something we want to discuss with them; try to get our teams to varsity,” said Warren. “Tespa really introduced us to these networks of clubs within schools willing to compete with each other with set rules.”

One benefit of the varsity label would be increased accountability for members, according to Warren. He says being able to rely on the college for conflict resolution would be a big relief.

“When you have the school also holding you accountable for something it means something more than it might if it were me or Chris just being cross with a player,” said Warren. “Not to say we would want these problems to occur, but if we had the college overseeing things, that could be very beneficial.”

Warren says that other benefits include additional resources for players, such as training courses. He thinks that although the college may be considering these measures, they’re still far in the future.

Although official collegiate status would boast more benefits for members, most players enjoy being part of a community. This is the case for Dustin Langman, a third- year graphic design student who has been coming to the club for a year and a half.

“There’s a lot of people who will share controllers and knowledge, anything you really need to get further into the game. Nobody really wants to shun anyone away,” said Langman.

While Algonquin Esports caters to the more mainstream names in video games, Warren says the club welcomes players of all gaming backgrounds.

“I try to create a community that has as minimal barriers to entry that pretty much anyone of any gaming fandom background can be a part of,” said Warren. “I think that’s what caters towards our team’s uniform. If we have a large community, that sort of spreads the word. Pretty much anybody and everybody, we want to accept them. You don’t even have to play games, just come and talk about games. We have a lot of people that just come and hang out and talk about anime for example, so. As open as I can.”