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Video game tournaments in San Luis Obispo county

Students gathered in Cal Poly’s Engineering IV building for their larger quarterly tournaments. Photo by Avery Sowell

Video games have been a competitive platform for many years, but recently they have grown considerably in both scale and frequency of competitions with the rise of eSports.

Electronic sports are a form of organized competitive video games as a spectator sport. As a competitive platform, they offer a potentially level playing field unlike traditional sports competitions, which favor certain body types and physical qualities.

Events for eSports take the form of high stakes tournaments, with many professional players flying out from all over the world to compete for prize money. 

Tournaments of this kind are held across the world on both global and local scales, such as the tournaments in San Luis Obispo county.

San Luis Obispo tournaments tend to be small, grassroots events. A majority of competitions are for Nintendo’s most recent Super Smash Bros. game, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” While there are some groups in the area for other games, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” has the largest and most active local scene.

There have been two very small “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” tournaments held at Cuesta College, but larger weekly tournaments are held on Thursday nights in Cal Poly’s Bonderson Engineering building. The event is called SloBroke and is run entirely by Cal Poly students through the Slo Smash Community. These same Cal Poly students also host two bigger quarterly tournaments in Cal Poly’s Engineering IV building called Ultimate Polytown Slo-Downs, commonly referred to as UPS. 

These tournaments are predominantly attended by Cal Poly students, but there are a number of non-Cal Poly students who also attend each week including groups of around five players from Santa Maria, around four players from Morro Bay, and some middle school and high school students. 

“You can come out and compete no matter how old you are,” said SloBroke Tournament Operator Ethan Grebmeier, a third-year Cal Poly business/information systems student. “Which I think is one of the most awesome things ever, getting your ass [sic] kicked by a 14-year-old.”

In San Luis Obispo, there aren’t any professional-level players attending these events, so they tend to be social gatherings as well as competitive ones. Many who attend meet new friends through these events. 

Lots of players who enjoy “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” avoid these events for a number of reasons. People uninvolved in the competitive scene sometimes see video games played on a more serious level as a waste of time. Additionally, some consider players at these events arrogant, and not welcoming to new players.

“I’ve had the total opposite experience with Smash,” said SloBroke Tournament Operator James Hasbany, a Cal Poly economics student focusing on quantitative analysis. “I’ve only ever been met with inclusivity, positivity, and friendliness. I’ve never experienced the kind of stereotypes other eSports have.”

Ethan Grebmeier (left) and James Hasbany (right) have been operating video game tournaments at Cal Poly for almost three years now. Photo by Avery Sowell

More commonly, prospective players don’t think they’re at a level where they could compete, and are afraid of losing. A majority of the players in San Luis Obispo who attend are happy to offer advice to new players and want to see them improve.

“If you ask someone who just beat you in a match for advice they will almost always want to give you that advice,” Grebmeier said. “At the end of the day, someone else getting better that you have to compete against by proxy helps you get better. So everyone here wants to see everyone else get better.”

Grebmeier, originally from Colorado, met his first friends and roommates at Cal Poly through these events.

SloBroke tournaments are normally held every Thursday in Cal Poly’s Bonderson Engineering building, Room 6 with doors opening at 6 p.m. and competitions beginning at 7 p.m. However, tournaments will be held online for the foreseeable future due to the current COVID-19 health risks. Check the Slo Smash Community Facebook page for more information and updates.