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DEA organizes esports tournament to warn teens about fentanyl

UMFK esports club member Dakota Marin plays League of Legends on a PC built by the university's computer hardware class during the 2022 fall semester.
Chris Bouchard
St. John Valley Times
UMFK esports club member Dakota Marin plays League of Legends on a PC built by the university's computer hardware class during the 2022 fall semester.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is turning to esports to spread awareness in New England about the dangers of fentanyl.

The One Pill Can Kill Game Over Tournament on Thursday evening will feature eight collegiate teams competing against one another in the video game Rocket League. Organized by the DEA's New England division, it's the third esports tournament held as part of the DEA’s fentanyl awareness campaign. Over 400,000 viewers collectively watched two previous tournaments.

Esports global viewership is estimated to be well over half a billion people, with a sizeable percentage being teenagers and young adults. About 22 high school aged adolescents die in the U.S. from drug overdoses each week with an increasing amount being from fentanyl-laced drugs.

"We came up with this concept of having these competitive esports events. And throughout the event — while teams are competing — we have people that are going to provide real-time facts about the dangers," said Jon DeLena, the associate administrator at the DEA who helped organize the tournament. "People can tune in and watch … There’s a fun aspect to it, but there’s a serious aspect to it as well."

The Rocket League team from the University of Southern Maine Esports program will be competing in the tournament. USM teams have competed in similar esports tournaments dedicated to raising awareness — including for domestic violence, and animal cruelty.

"One of the things that is unique about esports is — like traditional sports — it’s something that you can use to promote anything, this example [being] fentanyl use," said Michael Brown, a USM rising senior who serves as the program's president. "Getting any sort of information out there would be receptive to anyone, just because we have seen how it has had impacts in previous tournaments.”

The tournament is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday. It will be broadcast on the OnePillCanKill channel on Twitch, featuring production similar to that of traditional sportscasts such as live commentators. The USM Esports Twitch channel plans on streaming the tournament from their players' perspective.

Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.