UNM esports team wins national championship

Jan. 25—The weapons are cartoonish — inkbrushes or splat rollers or any other number of colorful options. The goal could be to capture the flag, paint as much ground as possible, or play basketball with a collection of clamshells.

The players are cephalopods.

The game: Splatoon 3.

The University of New Mexico's Splatoon 3 team won a national collegiate championship in December, a milestone for the school's esports program. It is UNM's first esports national championship win. Splatoon 3 is a Nintendo video game released in 2022.

In competitive play, teams of four work together. Like many team sports, players fill different and complementary roles. A player might focus on defense, slay the competition or just stay alive to outlast the competition.

The university's esports program has two Splatoon 3 teams: Cherry and Silver, the JV team. Each team has six players. Four people can play on a team at a time and two substitute players are available.

The players need quality communication for consistent performances, said Fernando Loya. He started the UNM Splatoon 3 teams in August and coaches the Cherry team.

"There was no team when I got here," Loya said, "and I really love Splatoon."

He wasn't sure if anyone would try out, but several of his team members were thrilled to finally have a Splatoon team to play on.

Team co-coordinator Tony Devins had been waiting for a Splatoon team to come along. He coaches, plays and announces games.

"It's just a really fun game. Colorful, fast movement, fun music," said Devins, who played more traditional sports such as football and track growing up, a background he relies on for discipline and planning.

Zamari Ross loves Splatoon, but this is her first time on an esports team.

"It's really fun because I get to be with people who have the same interest as me, and we get to work together," Ross said.

Music education major Sammy Ortega has wanted to go to physical esports competitions for a long time.

"Although online is great, it's not the same thing as seeing your friends grow and participate along with you, and it feels amazing when you work together and you win," Ortega said. "That's why I wanted to join, because I get to see it happen, what's typically behind a monitor."

Ortega doesn't like shooter games, except for Splatoon.

"This game is a shooter, but it has twisted the natural steps in a way where it's not just playing a game with a gun. It's a lot more of working with your team, working with the other team, as weird as that sounds, focusing on patterns, figuring out what works and what doesn't work," Ortega said.

The Collegiate Cephalopod Association offers nationwide Splatoon 3 tournaments with six divisions. The UNM team competed in Division 5. At one game a week, the whole season took over two months.

On game day, the team shows up an hour or two early for practice, then settles in to play. The format is best-of-seven games, with each game lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

"People don't see esports as an actual sport," Loya said. "They think of sports — they think of American football, soccer, basketball. They think of physical activity. While esports doesn't have the physicality of it, it's got everything else. It's got the teamwork. It's got the mentality. It's got the skill."