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UNLV’s esports team competes in major Smash tournament

When Milo Ocampo, 24, started 8-bit Esports in 2012, he was already a veteran in the esports world. Now, he’s helping lead UNLV into new territory in the esports world.

Ocampo’s foray into esports began as a middle schooler.

“Back then, esports wasn’t a thing,” Ocampo said. “So, the name of our club was the Cyber Sports club and we thought that was cool. We ran (our own) Super Smash Brothers Melee tournaments once a week after school and 80 kids would show up.”

Ocampo ran tournaments with his brother, and, though they had fun, they had one primary goal in mind.

“My brother and I thought we could make money,” Ocampo said. “After each tournament, we’d make about $20, which is a lot of money to a middle schooler. That came full circle, because when you’re in college, 20 bucks is still a lot of money.”

In 2012, Ocampo, along with three others, decided to form 8-bit Esports. It was then, they decided the direction the organization would take form then on.

“There was a pivotal meeting seven years ago where my brother sat us down,” Ocampo said. “He said something profound. He said I can’t pay you right now, what I can give you is experience and exposure. So, what do you really want out of esports?”

For Ocampo, the answer was simple.

“I was a lonely kid,” Ocampo said. “No one wanted to come up to me and I didn’t want to come up to anyone. I want to be at least a representation of esports and say hey, if you’re a gamer, you can come talk to me. I want to be recognized for esports. I want to be the face of esports.”

8-bit esports has grown in numbers and reach, boasting more than 1,300 members, Ocampo said. Ocampo said he also helped design several LAN centers and arenas in Las Vegas and helped start UNLV’s 8-bit esports squad.

The 2019-20 school year was the first that the team received funding to travel to tournaments. Ocampo knew his Super Smash Bros. players were among his most active and he wanted to give them a taste of a big tournament outside of Nevada. He found the perfect choice.

UNLV’s “Super Smash Bros.” players traveled to compete at DreamHack in Atlanta in November.

“My only expectation for the team was for them to get comfortable in that environment,” Ocampo said. “For many of them, this was their first time traveling for the sole purpose of competing. I told them, don’t treat this as life or death. This is your baseline and the next time we travel, let’s do better.”

The tournament had 640 entrants from around the world and the Rebels had several solid finishes.

Sophomore Nyrel Bruno finished 97th, Ocampo, Daniel Valencia and Victoria Ostotio finished in a tie for 193rd, Matthew Garcia placed 257th and Aaron Escobedo took 385th.

“I wanted to go out and have fun,” Bruno said. “I didn’t expect to place as well as I did. I had never been to a major tournament outside of Las Vegas.”

Bruno, a sophomore who played Pacman, began playing competitively in 2014.

“You have to switch out of your habits as a casual player,” Bruno said. “When you’re playing with friends, you’re not really worried about am I doing things that aren’t safe or is this bad for me in the long run? When you’re a competitive player, you have to optimize your play style and you’re focused on what you’re doing that is right and wrong.”

He took the tournament as a chance take his game to the next level.

“I learned things I had never seen before,” Bruno said.

Senior Aaron Escobedo hasn’t had the time he’d like to commit to playing Smash lately because of his classes, but Escobedo, who plays the character Wolf, took away a lot from his DreamHack experience.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “Going to big national tournaments is important no matter what sport you do. You put pressure on yourself and it creates an environment that helps you get better.”

Escobedo, who is graduating this winter, said he expects to devote more time to training.

“(Wolf’s) style fits a very read-heavy play, which is what I like to do,” Escobedo said. “I look at what my opponent is doing and try to make good guesses as to what they’ll do next. Wolf is a character that rewards that type of play.”

Contact Lukas Eggen at leggen@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0261. Follow @LukasEggen on Twitter.