Student Stories

UChicago Intramurals bring students together through friendly virtual competition

This winter, students competed in a wide variety of virtual games and e-sports, including Minecraft, Scrabble and Super Smash Bros.

Intramurals are a much-loved tradition on campus, bringing students together for friendly inter-House competition on the court, the field and even the Midway ice rink. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UChicago’s Intramural Sports program has adapted its offerings to meet the needs of our newly virtual community. 

“We had to quickly pivot and figure out what we were going to do to still interact with our students and give them this opportunity to engage with each other and do something outside of schoolwork,” said Matthew Fox, UChicago director of intramurals and recreational sports. 

Despite having to learn on the fly, Fox said Spring Quarter 2020 was a success: the numbers were high and people enjoyed playing. Since then, Fox identified some staples of remote gaming and e-sports that will continue throughout Winter and Spring Quarters, but he says his team is brainstorming “fresh ideas to keep students excited and interested in participating.”

The intramurals program typically offers around 12 sports and games each quarter, so that there is enough variety for students. “We realize that we have a unique student body here and we try to get creative even during regular times with what we offer. We want everyone to get involved.” Fox said. 

This winter, students can choose between Among Us, Chess, Euchre, Fifa 21, Game Pigeon, Heads Up!, Hearts, League of Legends, Mario Kart, Minecraft, Rocket League, Scrabble, Spades, Super Smash Bros., a lip sync competition and the Maroon Step Challenge.

Super Smash Bros., now in its third consecutive season, has fast become a favorite among UChicago students. “Super Smash Bros. really took off,” Fox said. “There’s a UChicago Smash Club that has been really active in helping putting this together.” 

Super Smash Bros. has since expanded from individual competitions to three-person crews, creating more of a team feel. At the end of the season, the players participate in a real-time online tournament, during which friends and classmates can tune in and watch the livestream of the matches.

A student stands holding a tshirt that reads "Intramural Champion"
Yinsu Han, Autumn Quarter Mahjong champion

Yinsu Han, a second-year math major from China, became involved in intramural Mahjong during Autumn Quarter after hearing about it from a friend.  

“One of my best friends texted me about this competition, and I thought that was a great thing to do during a time when everyone was restricted in his or her own place,” Han said. “I missed my time back in China so I thought Mahjong could be an interesting way to give me some home vibe.” 

Han won the final tournament in an exciting tie-breaker round, emerging as the fall champion. Reflecting on the season, she said “The Mahjong intramural was a really wonderful experience to me, especially at the final round. I would say the game is itself largely dependent on luck, so I believed it was the four of us together that made the game really enjoyable.”

A student stands inside a gym holding a tshirt that reads "Intramual Champion."
Devin Hoover, Autumn Quarter backgammon champion

Devin Hoover, a second-year student double majoring in astrophysics and history and a resident of Phoenix House, described the fall backgammon tournament as an adventure. 

“I was demolished in my very first game, but I managed to win the next three games, meaning I was the highest-scoring competitor with one loss and occupied the lowest seed going to the semifinals.” In the end, Hoover prevailed, finishing as the Autumn Quarter backgammon champion. 

Fox is hopeful that intramurals will continue providing students with opportunities to connect and compete in a fun virtual environment. The aim, he said, is that “Everyone can feel comfortable with where they’re playing and have fun with it. That’s the ultimate goal at the end of the day—just to have fun opportunities to connect.”