Weekly Feature



2018-03-07 / Front Page

A sport for the digital age

As video games become a competitive sport, one college wants to capitalize on rocketing trend
by ETHAN POWERS
Editor


Joe LaPorta, director of IT support, left, and Greg J. Nayor, vice president for student affairs, watch a live stream of a game on the main monitor in the Oddy Lounge at Daemen College. 
Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Joe LaPorta, director of IT support, left, and Greg J. Nayor, vice president for student affairs, watch a live stream of a game on the main monitor in the Oddy Lounge at Daemen College. Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com It’s the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of.

The meteoric rise of “eSports” — the abbreviation for electronic sports — has vastly changed the landscape of an industry that was once viewed as little more than a hobby by its supporters and as a time-wasting activity by its critics.

That narrative has changed dramatically in the past five years as video games, played professionally on a highly competitive level, have skyrocketed in popularity.

According to Business Insider, the eSports market made nearly $700 million in revenue in 2017. Streaming services such as YouTube and Twitch, which broadcast competitive games to millions worldwide, have allowed individual gamers to flourish in their reach. In December, Twitch had more than 500,000 unique users streaming events.


Students play a computer game while Joe LaPorta, director of information technology support at Daemen College, coaches them in the Oddy Lounge, located in Daemen’s Wick Student Center. 
Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos atwww.BeeNews.com Students play a computer game while Joe LaPorta, director of information technology support at Daemen College, coaches them in the Oddy Lounge, located in Daemen’s Wick Student Center. Photo by Jim SmerecakPurchase color photos atwww.BeeNews.com The competitive gaming movement has now found its way to Western New York, where Daemen College recently announced the formation of an eSports team as part of the institution’s Game Club, making Daemen the first private institution in the Buffalo region to join the world of competitive collegiate gaming.

“This is a big movement,” said Greg Nayor, vice president for student affairs and dean of students for Daemen. “More and more colleges are coming on board, and we saw this as an opportunity to meet our students where they’re at and to provide a niche for them.”

The college’s interest in gaming was piqued, says Nayor, when Gary Olson, president of the college and a member of the NCAA’s Board of Governors, attended a board meeting last August.

Board members held talks defining eSports, its increasing presence on college campuses, and how its emergence could change the traditional model of collegiate sports. Roughly 50 collegiate eSports programs now exist, with a national governing body known as the National Association of Collegiate eSports.

As the NCAA currently has no affiliation with eSports, nor does it hold any jurisdiction over its college programs, Olson returned to Daemen with a plan to initiate eSports in Western New York, at which time he involved Nayor in talks of starting a new program.

“I partnered with our information technology people who have a big interest in it,” Nayor said. “We pulled together students and began organizing. We have a good crew of students already participating, and we’re actively recruiting for prospective students next year.”

The Daemen Game Club, organized last fall and consisting of about 15 students, holds practices every Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Wick Campus Center’s Oddy Lounge, which has been transformed into a gamer haven.

In partnership with the Division of Information Technology, Daemen opened an “eSports Lab” within the lounge, which was outfitted in January with repurposed computers and other equipment from the college’s existing technology supplies. Ergonomic gaming chairs, mice, keyboards and headsets were funded by student activities fees to aid in the growth of the team.

The team will compete this fall in the East Coast Conference, an association of small schools that compete against one another in a variety of sports. Other ECC institutions that have committed to play next fall include LIU Post, Mercy College, Molloy College, NYIT and St. Thomas Aquinas College. Participating teams will play a round-robin schedule over the course of the fall semester with the top four moving to the ECC eSports Championship.

“People hear ‘video games,’ and they think it’s a waste of time, but there’s a lot of teamwork built into it,” said Nayor. “There’s strategy, there’s critical thinking, so it is more sophisticated than people think.”

Jay Clarke, a junior in Daemen’s illustration program and a member of the school’s new eSports team, never envisioned becoming as enthralled as is he now with the competitive gaming scene, though he often dabbled in it. He began competing in tournaments for fighting games such as Killer Instinct and Super Smash Bros. Gradually, he migrated to the genre of games known as “multiplayer online battle arena” and specifically to the computer game “League of Legends,” which is what the Daemen eSports team will play competitively this fall.

Launched in 2009, League of Legends is currently played by more than 100 million people each month, making it among the most-played games in the world. In 2017, the League of Legends World Championship finals, held in China, were watched by 60 million people.

The game allows players to control a “champion” with a distinctive set of abilities while they battle the champions of opposing players. The goal is to destroy the opposing team’s “nexus,” a structure that lies within a heavily fortified base.

Clarke estimates that the team spends about four to five hours a week practicing. He believes that gaming can offer participants intangible benefits that other hobbies may not.

“For anyone who plays competitively, I feel that they generally develop more confidence in a lot of what they’re doing, and that’s a big thing when you’re still in your late teens and early 20s,” he said.

Clarke is adamant that the time spent behind a computer screen is not the kind of extraneous activity it is often criticized as being.

“Whenever you have a setting in which people have a shared skill, and they get together and see who’s the best at it, coupled with the fact that you’re with a bunch of friends working together, it just makes you appreciative of putting in the time and effort and having it pay dividends,” he said.

For Nayor, the possibilities of competitive gaming at the collegiate level are limitless. He even envisions a near future in which eSports scholarships might be offered for modest sums.

“We think this could not only be a big thing for recruitment but also retention,” he said. “We see the greater popularity of it, and we see it as something that’s going to be long term. This is not just a flash in the pan. Competitive gaming is not going away, and it’s only going to grow.”

Return to top


Clarence Special Events 2018
Click for schedule