A new generation of sports events

Matthew Strissel
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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Fergus High School graduate and current captain of the varsity Overwatch esports team at the University of Montana, Solomon Albertson Gore practices the game on his computer. The popularity of esports has been on the rise in recent years, especailly on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Solomon Albertson Gore

While players may not be physically fighting in the arena, a lot of blood, sweat and tears get exerted when playing esports, although the blood is entirely virtual.

Esports has been growing in popularity over the past few years, especially for colleges. This fall, the University of Montana in Missoula recognized esports as an official sport on campus. The first day, 60 students signed up to play, which has since grown to over 100 participants.

“For the Griz program, our main goal is to bring people together who love video games and become a family,” said Grizzly esport player Solomon Albertson Gore. “We’re also very competitive, but our main focus is to have a community on campus.”

Gore is a graduate of Fergus High School and is currently attending UM. He is the captain of the varsity Overwatch team.

There are six teams played at both the varsity and junior varsity levels. Each focus on a specific game, which are League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch Starcraft 2 and Apex Legends. There is also a fighting team that plays Super Smash Bros and Tekken.

There is a sort of chain of command similar to other sports such as basketball and football. Each team has a captain for JV and varsity, and coaches for each team. There are also head coaches to oversee the entire program.

Currently, the NCAA does not have guidelines for esports teams. Instead, the governing body is the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The organization includes 170 schools across the country.

For Montana, the Overwatch team is playing on a national level. The League of Legends team recently played for the Big Sky Cup, which is made up of Montana teams.

Even through there isn’t an NCAA standard for players, the Grizzly esports team is still held accountable, especially now that they are an official school team.

“We are held to the same standard as other teams on campus,” Gore said. “We can’t go over 20 hours per week for practice and games, our grades are accounted for so we have to maintain a certain GPA and varsity players can only play on one team.”

Just like any other sport, players must put the time and effort in to be able to beat their opponents and win the competition. This includes training and practice.

“We meet in the training room three times per week to go through drills and scenarios of what can happen in a game,” Gore said. “We practice muscle memory and reflexes. Like any other team, we put the time in to get better.”

Gore said UM is one of the first schools to take esports seriously. The team hosted a Super Smash Bros tournament where the president of the school came and played. The school has provided the equipment needed for players to participate.

“The school has been extremely generous,” Gore said. “They got brand-new computers and top of the line equipment, which has helped because we’re expanding quickly. It’s one of the most welcoming and accepting communities I’ve been part of. You can’t go wrong joining it. Even if you don’t want to play competitively, there’s still a spot for you. Anyone who wants to come and play is more than welcome.”

Not only has esports been on the rise at the collegiate level, but internationally as well. With the decline of viewership of the Super Bowl, the world championship finals for League of Legends became on par with the juggernaut sporting event in total views for the first time last year.

In 2016, the Super Bowl had 111 million viewers. 2017 saw that number drop to 103 million, and in 2018 that number dipped to just over 98 million, the smallest it’s been since 2008. Compare that to the League of Legends world championships, which had 99.3 million viewers.

Like the days where kids dreamed of scoring the final goal in game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs for hockey, or catching a last-second hail mary pass in the Super Bowl for football, the new generation might dream about winning an international video game tournament. If winning is a goal, Gore gave some advice for players wanting to get into the sport.

“Practice, a lot,” Gore said. Depending on what game they want to get into, memorize that game like the back of their hand. Work on communication and realize they are in a team game, that comes first. We take ambition over skill any day.”

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