By Clara Turnage
University of Mississippi
More than 100 players from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University will compete in the fifth-annual Esports Egg Bowl on Saturday (Oct. 29) at The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss.
The Pavilion opens at 10 a.m. with a line of computer screens and CPUs across the court, each one a field of battle. Free and open to the public, the event is intended to last all day.
The teams will compete in seven games, including Rocket League, Valorant, CSGO, Overwatch, League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and a recent addition to the lineup, Omega Strikers. John McDermott, UM director of esports programs, said he’s confident that Ole Miss has a winning team.
“The students have put a lot of effort into this,” McDermott said. “We have the opportunity to really step out into the limelight for the day and say, ‘This is what we’re doing; this is the talent we’re developing.'”
The Egg Bowl will be the first official in-person competitive event for Omega Strikers, a 3v3 knockout striker game that had a beta release in mid-September.
Ole Miss alumnus Ryan Rigney is marketing director for Odyssey Interactive, which developed Omega Strikers. After Ole Miss Esports helped organize play-testers for an early edition of the game, the university group was “instrumental” in connecting Odyssey Interactive with esports teams across the country, he said.
The culmination of that effort was a February 2022 event in which 7,000 students from 120 schools across the United States and Canada play-tested the game months ahead of release.
“It’s a true honor to see Ole Miss carrying forward the banner for Omega Strikers now that we’re officially released on PC,” Rigney said. “Ole Miss and MSU have been a part of Omega Strikers from the beginning.”
Ian Wright, a sophomore criminal justice major from Madison, will be competing on the Ole Miss Omega Strikers team.
Wright, who has been playing video games since he was 7, was one of the play testers on an early version of the game.
“A lot of these big organizations were testing the game, and it was really cool when we got to join that test as a college student,” Wright said. “For a long time, this was a hobby. Now I’ve become friends with a lot professional esports players. Those connections meant a lot to me.”
Whenever a player scores, Wright said he and the other Omega Strikers chant, “Better than Kai!” a reference to an in-game character’s dialogue. Wright said he hopes the whole stadium will be chanting by the end of the Egg Bowl.
“If you’re interested in esports at all, this makes it feel like the real deal. It’s not a hobby anymore. I think it sparks that inspiration inside of you – that this is something you can really do.”
Rigney, who will be attending the Egg Bowl in person, said he is excited to see the game fans are calling a combination of Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate played at his alma mater.
“Very simply put, I’m a Mississippi boy, and I want to see my Mississippi schools go head-to-head,” he said.
The university’s esports team, born from a defunct League of Legends team in 2017, has grown in recent years from just five attendees at its first meeting to nearly 300 members, with 121 of those being competitive players, McDermott said. Though COVID-19 disrupted the team’s growth, the Egg Bowl is a perfect opportunity to show that esports is back and growing, he said.
“We have a handful of really high-level players who chose to come to this university because of the esports program,” McDermott said, referencing recent recruits such as freshman Josh Vannoy, a nationally ranked Rocket League player who enrolled at UM this year.
Aside from the players, the event also features student coaches, student commentators, students in charge of marketing and livestreams – all representing a wealth of opportunities available in the esports program, McDermott said.
“We want people to see that this is not a gaming event; it’s a university event,” he said. “The work we’re doing here … it benefits the university.”
Rigney, who built his career around the gaming world, said the industry is building an ecosystem of careers, and that programs such as the Ole Miss team are preparing students for that ecosystem.
“I believe games will be – and in many ways already are – the most important art form of the 21st century,” he said. “It’s a massive, massive industry, so creating opportunities for more students to be a part of that industry is important, whether that’s as programmers, artists, players or logistical production roles.
“When you see the Esports Egg Bowl getting set up in the Pavilion, watch the kids doing the organizing, the video capture and sound design work. These are people with careers ahead of them.”