By Eric Weir
When Alex Ho arrived on campus as a freshman in 2018, he believed he was done playing his favorite video game, Rocket League, competitively.
It’s not that Ho was unable to play, or was not good at playing – Ho is a highly ranked competitive Rocket League player and was the highest ranked player in the club when he joined in 2018.
Ho believed no one would be as passionate about Rocket League, but to him, it was more than a game.
To others, Rocket League was a strange video game that loosely combined soccer with gravity-defying, rocket powered cars straight out of a “Mad Max” movie.
‘Hey, let’s grab dinner’
When he arrived to campus in 2018, Ho was surprised when he found a small group of people within the Esports Club that liked Rocket League. There were about four seniors and one junior in the initial group.
After a couple weeks of only online play and interaction, Ho wanted to meet them in person.
“Hey, let’s grab dinner,” Ho said.
The club happily agreed and they had their first “Rocket League dinner” together at Chase Dining Hall. It has since become a special tradition.
In spring of 2020, Hall plopped down next to other club members at the Ms. Mong Restaurant on Franklin Street. He kept his head down and said, “Hey guys,” with a defeated tone.
“I feel terrible about this chemistry exam I just took,” Hall said.
“Which class was it,” his teammate asked. “I’ve taken that class, it’s hard, but you’ll be fine.”
Hall says its moments like these where he understands why the number of members has grown so much since his Freshman year.
The UNC Rocket League Club has grown at a fast rate over the past couple years and its leaders have created a culture of inclusivity that has exploded into one of the fastest growing clubs at Chapel Hill.
In 2019, the club had around 100 members and two competitive teams. In 2021, the members had more than doubled with around 260 members and four competitive teams.
One reason for the jump in membership comes from a competition held between club members in 2020. Suddenly, juniors and seniors were hearing about the club for the first time. Players who casually enjoyed the game but were hesitant to join signed up.
Junior Henry Hall said the welcoming community made a big difference for new members.
“Rocket League is a game where you can play with anybody no matter how good they are,” Hall said. “Like casually and have a good time.”
Ricardo Tieghi came to UNC this year with similar problems as Ho. He was an avid Rocket League player, but had no one to play with back home in Brazil and expected nothing different in college.
Weeks before heading to Chapel Hill for his freshman year, Tieghi discovered the Rocket League Club through the Esports page on the Heel Life website and happily joined.
The day he arrived, before he had a chance to admire his new room, he made his way to the gaming arena for a welcome back tournament. Problems arose when Tieghi’s teammate did not show up
“Oh my god, I shouldn’t have even come,” Tieghi said.
After contacting Ho and another administrator, they quickly found Tieghi a new teammate.
“We had never seen each other before,” Tieghi said. “We had never played together before, but we went into this competitive tournament playing against the best players here at UNC and we managed to do well which was amazing,”
Tieghi said the club has given him a sense of belonging on campus especially early on in the semester this year.
‘A big factor’
The club’s leadership has been a big factor in the club’s image. For the past four years the leaders have been David Gallub and Ho.
Gallub was one of the founders of the Rocket League Club and he set a standard for being inclusive and kind to one another.
“He was always there to calm you down if you’re feeling doubtful,” Hall said. “He’ll give you some confidence.”
Even though he graduated in 2019, Gallub is still willing to look at members’ resumés and offer advice.
After 2019, Gallub passed the torch too Ho to continue growing the club.
“From the moment I met Alex I instantly realized he was someone very approachable,” Tieghi said. “He’s kind and caring. He makes you feel welcome and makes everyone feel good when you’re playing.”
Rocket League may only be a game but the way the game has brought together a group of people in Chapel Hill has transformed it into something much more.
What was once an exclusive group of avid players has blossomed into a large community spreading laughter and friendship.
Edited by: Anna Blount/Austin Bean