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‘Same Rivalry, New Game’: UM to Host Inaugural Esports Egg Bowl

Cray Pennison, president of Ole Miss Esports, Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor, and Jason DeShong, president of Mississippi State University Esports, speak at a press conference to announce the Esports Egg Bowl for Saturday, Oct. 13. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Service

The lights of The Pavilion at Ole Miss will shine brightly on esports athletes from the University of Mississippi as they take on a team from Mississippi State University in the inaugural Esports Egg Bowl on Saturday (Oct. 13) in Oxford.

Teams of gamers will face off in a variety of video games projected on the arena’s video screens in front of friends, family and esports fans. Doors open at 10 a.m., with gaming action set to begin following an opening ceremony featuring Noel E. Wilkin, UM provost and executive vice chancellor.

The event is free and open to the public.

“I’m so excited,” said Ole Miss Esports founder Cray Pennison, a junior from Mandeville, Louisiana. “I’m excited to see everyone up on the stage for the first time.

“I’ve only been told things, like, ‘Imagine what this will be like.’ But I’m excited to really see it for myself. An event like this is one of the reasons I started the esports club.”

The Esports Egg Bowl will feature some 70 players combined from Ole Miss and MSU displaying their talents to the audience, with fast-paced gaming, thumping music and all the sights and sounds of a major entertainment event.

“We want it to have that ‘ready to rumble’ feeling,” said Carrie Long, administrative assistant for the UM Department of Computer and Information Science and close supporter of the club. “We want it to be a show.”

Interested fans who cannot attend the event can watch live on Twitch using the search OleMissEsports.

The popularity of esports is booming, with televised competitions on ESPN and other platforms and millions of players and viewers worldwide.

At Ole Miss, the team is just hitting its stride. Pennison, an English major, founded the Ole Miss Esports team in early 2017. Since then, interest has grown and the club has spiked from fewer than 10 participants at its first meeting to approximately 170 current members.

Pennison said he has received emails from graduating high school seniors asking how to join the group, even before they enrolled at the university.

“When we started the club, that was the goal, to get here eventually, but not this soon,” he said. “That we got here in this amount of time is unbelievable and speaks to all the people involved in the club and shows the craze of esports across the nation.”

The Esports Egg Bowl began this summer as a pipe dream, but quickly grew into reality thanks to buy-in from a variety of people and departments at the university, Pennison said.

“It started over the summer as maybe a fun idea we could do in maybe a year or two,” he said. “We talked to more and more people, and we didn’t expect to get a lot of ‘yesses.’

“But when people didn’t say ‘no,’ we kept asking and eventually we got entire departments involved and were able to collect a supergroup of people to put this together.”

Pennison worked alongside his Bulldog counterpart Jason DeShong, president of MSU Esports.              

“I’m glad that we are able to push something like this – that is really only happening in California – down to Mississippi,” said DeShong, a second-year MSU student. “We hope to legitimize esports in the Southeast to our schools, doubters and fans to show that this is something that is rising, and we are willing to lead the pack in esports to pave the way for people who come behind us.”

The spirit of friendly competition and the thrill of victory and recognition will be palpable during the event, but Wilkin said there is more to esports than winning and losing.

“It is about embracing the future, the future of online gaming, the future of sports and the future of understanding how the online world brings society together,” he said during a press conference to introduce the event. “And the real beneficiaries are the students. This will help them to develop and refine soft skills of leadership, teamwork and communication in task environments.”

Wilkin said the esports program is still in its early stages and his goal is to see it grow.

“We plan to establish sites where Ole Miss gamers can gather, practice and connect with expert gamers recreationally and in preparation for tournaments,” he said. “We will work toward establishing a competitive program that will enable our Rebel gamers to compete against the best collegiate gamers in the country.”

Plans are already in the works for a 2019 Esports Egg Bowl hosted by MSU.

“Mississippi State has expressed their (desire) for it to become an annual event,” DeShong said. “We want this to be a yearly thing that heightens our rivalry and brings more attention to esports.”

The Esports Egg Bowl is a way to showcase the excitement and social significance of the gaming community and bring these students “out of the dark,” Pennison said.

“Hopefully, this one-of-a-kind event will get new people to start participating,” he said. “We really hope players and audience members can see this is a real thing. It’s not just a bunch of people sitting in dark rooms; this is an event on this campus.”

Both Pennison and Long see the Esports Egg Bowl as the catalyst for growing esports programs at UM and across the region.

“Big picture, we would like to create a university-sponsored esports program, much like the athletics programs,” Long said.

But before the days when stadiums fill to watch Ole Miss battle other SEC foes with scholarship esports athletes, Pennison said his team will focus on the now. And that means putting the finishing touches on preparation for the Esports Egg Bowl and spending time together practicing to defeat their first major adversary from the other side of the state.

Units across the university have come together to make this event a reality, including the Office of the Provost, the departments of Computer and Information Science, Intercollegiate Athleticsand Student Housing, the Ole Miss Student Union and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.

By Justin Whitmore

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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