Athletes for generations have come in all shapes and sizes. How short or tall, strong or weak, fast or slow someone playing football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc., can determine a specific skill set they adopt on their playing field that can give them any kind of advantage.
However, a new generation of athletes ascending to the forefront of our culture aren’t too concerned with physical attributes.
All they prefer is a comfortable chair and maybe a pair of headphones.
Electronic sports (Esports) is a form of sport competition using video games. It’s popularity has grown tremendously since the turn of the century with the inclusion of global tournaments such as the World Cyber Games and Major League Gaming.
In the 2010’s there was another boom in popularity as professional and semi-professional gamers began making money creating content on YouTube and streaming games on the service Twitch.
Now in 2020, Canisius is in its second year with a fully functioning Esports lab and club team.
Last fall, the college unveiled a brand new gaming lab underneath Palisano Pavilion furnished with 12 personal computers (PC), an Xbox, a Nintendo Switch and a PlayStation 4 (PS4). According to Canisius’ website, the college joined approximately 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide in the Esports initiative.
Today, the Esports team competes in the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF) Founders Division which consists of Canisius, Marist, Niagara, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Saint Peter’s and Siena. The EGF also has Big East division and a Power Five division which consists of schools such as Xavier, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Butler and Florida State, Louisiana State and Illinois, respectively.
With the large number of schools involved, teams don’t just play one singular game, however.
“We began early last year and we had a base level of five big Esports games that we actually competed in. That included, Overwatch, League of Legends, FIFA, Rocket League and Fortnite,” Super Smash Brothers team captain Casey Kurkowiak said. “Over time, as other people got interested in more games, we added on some newer games.”
The Esports team now officially rolls out ten different games, including, Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends, Madden, FIFA, Rocket League, Hearthstone, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.
Some games generate more interest than others so the number of students on each roster will vary by game, according to Kurkowiak.
In Canisius’ Esports inaugural year, about 40 students participated on the team in various games. This year, that number has blossomed to 70. The growing popularity at Canisius and other colleges and universities around the country has given the MAAC the opportunity to host it’s own tournament.
Alongside the men’s and women’s MAAC basketball tournament being held in Atlantic City, N.J., March 10-14, there will be the inaugural Esports tournament March 13-14 at Adrian Phillips Theatre on Boardwalk Hall. Every school in the conference will be sending teams down except Iona and Monmouth.
“Going down with those teams and having a different day apart from them is huge because Esports gets to enjoy the basketball games and if people are interested enough they’ll come and watch us as well,” Kurkowiak said. “Just getting the exposure out there I think is most important. This is an area where people are able to flex a certain type of muscle, but it’s cool to be in an arena and compete at that high level because you get that adrenaline flowing.”
Kyle Wells was a member of the Canisius Esports Overwatch team that went to the HV Gamercon in Albany, N.Y., last year, which was a tournament that had affiliation with the MAAC but was not formally integrated yet into the conference.
“It was a very cool experience last year, we got to play on stage probably in front of 100 people. It was a pretty cool feeling to be up on stage,” Wells said.
To play in these yearly tournaments, the teams for Super Smash Brothers and Overwatch, specifically, compete in regular season matches against other colleges and universities. The teams travel once per year, with Gamercon last year and the MAAC tournament this year, and practice extensively throughout the week.
Each team is permitted a time slot each week for a formal practice, but most players find more time to play and practice throughout the week. For Smash, most players practice between 20-40 hours a week and the more invested players will go at least 30-35 hours, according to Kurkowiak.
The Overwatch team practices once a week for three hours, but will go twice a week starting now until the tournament in March, Wells said.
Due to an issue with bed bugs underneath Palisano, the team isn’t allowed access to the lab until March, which causes some issues in preparing for Atlantic City.
While the popularity of Esports is growing, the idea that competitive video game playing should be considered a sport is still up for interpretation.
A major argument against Esports is that there is no physical tension involved in playing a video game like there is in other conventional sports.
Ayoub Siam, a first-year member of the Overwatch team played high school football at Williamsville North and said the value of being on a team and strategizing with Esports is similar to more common sports.
“It’s not the same adrenaline rush,” Siam said. “But it is still very competitive and since I play Overwatch there are strategies and other things that you have to take into account. It is still a team game.”
Kurkowiak and Wells issued similar sentiments about Esports still being a team game and having to strategize gameplans, even though it might not be considered in the same breath with contact sports.
“For the people who say that it isn’t a sport, I would probably say, ‘sure it’s not a sport, but it’s certainly a form of entertainment,’” Kurkowiak said. “I take enjoyment out of watching classic sports, and then also Esports, a dunk in basketball is the same as a spike in Super Smash Bros. to me, it’s both equally hype in their own right.”