Slug Gaming looks to level up presence on campus


The president and co-presidents of the 2023 Slug Gaming club.

(graphics by Ren Buendia).

This year, black jerseys splashed with blue and gold and featuring a slug wearing gaming headphones can be spotted among the sea of students on campus at UC Santa Cruz. They’re showing out for Slug Gaming, a thriving esports club on campus that regularly competes and wins against other powerhouse collegiate competitive video game teams. 

These new jerseys are just one way that Slug Gaming leadership hopes to raise the profile of their club, which is the largest gaming and esports group on campus and includes both  competitive teams and a casual, social side for any interested gamers on campus. The group’s president and co-presidents want to increase campus support for their players but also marry the two sides of their club and foster a strong sense of community for gamers at UCSC.

Since the club began about 10 years ago, Slug Gaming has brought together students who play a wide variety of online games. Their Discord server, which has been around since about 2014, shows that thousands of students have been members at some level. While members come from across campus, many tend to be game design (both Computer Science and Arts majors) and other engineering students. Some take on leadership positions within the club related to specific games, others take the lead on social media and graphic design, sponsorships, and more.

Now, with a more active push for growth from the last two years of club leadership, Wu estimates that there are around a few hundred students who come to casual social events hosted by Slug Gaming throughout the year. Casual events include watch parties for professional esports tournaments with snacks and prizes, and general meetings to stay up to date on the progress of the competitive teams. 


UCSC esports players compete at a tournament at UC

Riverside in Winter '23. (photo courtesy of Kimberley Wu)

“It would be really nice to divert from the COVID period of doing everything online,” said Kimberley Wu, a computer science student who is the Slug Gaming president and oversees the casual side of the club. “I know the stereotype is that gamers don’t leave their rooms and don’t see sun, but I just really want to be able to meet people and cultivate that kind of in-person community.” 

Slug Gaming sometimes partners with companies such as Redbull and MSI, who may sponsor the snacks and prizes for their events. The co-presidents hope to be able to collaborate more often with other student organizations, like they do yearly for the annual Slugcon event hosted by the UCSC Anime and Manga Association.

Students who compete on Slug Gaming’s competitive teams are dedicated high-level players in some of the most popular games in the esports scenes, including Apex Legends, Valorant, Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, Call of Duty, Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege, and Splatoon. The club has both varsity and junior varsity teams for most of these games, consisting of around three to five players based on what the game requires, along with coaches, who are typically more experienced and highly skilled players, and substitute players.

The players compete against other collegiate teams at tournaments on roughly a monthly basis, attending practice sessions, scrimmages, and reviews of gameplay called VOD reviews multiple times a week to prepare for these showdowns. Larger yearly tournaments offer the chance to bring home over a thousand dollars in prizes for winners. These collegiate tournaments are part of the expanding esports scene internationally, which was valued as a nearly $1.39 billion industry in 2022 and is forecasted to continue to grow in upcoming years. 

Slug Gaming’s results amid the competitive scene are impressive: their Valorant, League of Legends, and Apex Legends team regularly place in the top two to four at their respective game’s tournaments. The Valorant and Apex Legends teams each brought in over a thousand dollars in prize money last academic year, with their sights set on more earnings. So far this year, the UCSC Overwatch team is undefeated in the National Esports Collegiate Conference.

Amidst this, the leaders of Slug Gaming are seeking increased support from the university for their group, vying for recognition as an official sports team associated with UCSC Athletics, a status that esports teams at other UC’s have achieved with their athletics departments. As of now, Slug Gaming is a student group affiliated with UCSC SOAR, and students have to fundraise or pay out-of-pocket to participate in tournaments.

For the first time since COVID, UC Santa Cruz esports players will show up to tournaments in jerseys like all the other teams thanks to sponsorship from the UCSC Innovation & Business Engagement (IBE) Hub. The lack of jerseys had been a sore point for players in the past. 


Slug Gaming's Overwatch team wears their new player jerseys.

(photo courtesy of Kimberley Wu)

“It was funny because we won a load of games without jerseys, and the teams that had jerseys were getting beat by a team with no jerseys and no school support,” said Michelle Wang, Slug Gaming co-president who is an Arts division game design major and leads the competitive arm of the club. “It was kind of funny, but at the same time, that can only last so long until we say: this is not funny anymore, this is a problem.” 

Slug Gaming leadership is actively working with UC Santa Cruz Student Business Services to find ways to create a dedicated physical space for the group, acknowledging the significant logistical and environmental challenges of finding space at the residential campus. For now, in-person meetings and events are held in reservable classroom spaces. 

In general, Wang wants to raise the profile and brand recognition of Slug Gaming on campus. She wants to gather more support and community around their players competing and winning at collegiate tournaments, and notes that many UCSC students don’t know about the group, or think of it as “the Crown and Merrill gaming club.”

“Not quite it,” she said with a laugh. “We want to let people know ‘Hey, we have a gaming club, hey, it’s a real gaming club, no, we're not the Crown and Merrill gaming club!”