Each year, UT’s Esports Club taps into its passion for video games to raise money for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital through Extra Life, a gaming marathon that encourages donations for organizations in the Children’s Miracle Network.
The 16-hour gaming marathon had food, tournaments, and a watch party for the Tennessee vs. Georgia football game. The event drew its largest crowd at night when the club hosted a Super Smash Bros. tournament.
The Esports club, which started in 2015, was small at first, but has seen major growth over the past few years as esports have become more popular on college campuses.
“Since 2018, we’ve gotten to at least 1,600 members in our Discord server,” says Sara Caoile, a marketing vice president for the club.
Staff advisor Jason Smethers first stepped into his role when a student noticed game icons on his computer and asked him if he would be the advisor.
After a few years, Smethers pitched the idea of taking part in the Extra Life event, of which he has taken part annually since 2016. In 2019, he realized the opportunity that the Esports club had to help the children’s hospital.
“Student clubs need a philanthropy to support, and Extra Life is a pretty simple program,” Smethers says. “Pick a day, play games for an extended number of hours and then while you’re doing that, use your reach and your friend group to raise money for Children’s Hospital.”
For Smethers, supporting the children’s hospital was a no brainer for several reasons, including its proximity to campus.
“Children’s is right there,” Smethers says. “It’s so hard not to think about UT and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital tied together, because of them being across the street—it’s a natural connection.”
But the geographical connection wasn’t the only reason. He also forged a connection when his child spent a week after he was born.
“It was just logical,” Smethers says. “They were so great to us, and it was awesome. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as us and they need the extra support, and here was an opportunity to take my friend community of gamers and be like ‘Hey guys, I’m doing this thing. Will you help me raise some money?’ And I just never stopped doing it.”
Smethers, with the help of some friends, does his own Extra Life gaming marathon once a year to raise money for the hospital and plans to continue doing so.
Though the club hosts just one Extra Life event a year, there are daily events raising funds for organizations around the country.
This year, the club was able to raise more than $2,000 for the hospital, but donations can be made through the club at any time.