By Charmaine Lim, SBM Editor-in-Chief
A new sport is coming to campus, one doesn’t include a ball, net or swim cap, but rather, a controller and screen.
E-sports has officially joined the ranks as one of Messiah’s teams. Though it is not part of the NCAA, it is still considered a varsity team since they will be competing against other collegiate teams and are governed by the National Association of Collegiate E-sports (NACE).
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students who wouldn’t typically find an opportunity to play a traditional sport that Messiah’s had for many years,” said Jared Newcomb, senior sport management major. “I think it’s a great opportunity for them to exercise their talents and gifts in a unique way.”
Currently, the main games that the team will be competing in are League of Legends, Hearthstone, Rocket League and Super Smash Brothers. There is a chance of more games being added in the future depending on interest and the ability to play at the collegiate level. First-person-shooter games will not be part of the lineup in order to follow Messiah’s stance on pacifism.
Instead of players running around a physical space, they will be exercising their brains through the use of game strategy. This will be done primarily in the new gaming lounge being built in the basement of Mellinger Apartments.
“We are a competitive industry,” Head Coach and coordinator Theresa Gaffney said. “We are competitive in a way that sports are, to some degree, but there are a lot of differences. We’re a lot more like chess in some ways.”
For some athletes on campus, the idea of e-sports is challenging to grasp because of just how different it is from traditional sports.
“I know there are a lot of athletes who question e-sports, particularly the name, just because it doesn’t make sense to more traditional athletes,” Nate Flanders, senior goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team, said. “I know a lot of athletes just don’t understand it and fail to see how it is incorporating aspects of sport.”
The addition of e-sports to the list of varsity teams on campus goes to show how much Messiah believes it had the potential to grow.
Still, it’s a big question of how e-sports fits into the traditional idea of sports. Particularly at a school where sports teams often rank highly in NCAA tournaments and have achieved national recognition at the D-III level.
“The ‘internet sport’ is a weird concept because sports, to me, has always been going outside and moving,” Joseph Cianciotta, senior forward on the soccer team, said.
However, others see e-sports as more of a mind game that involves strategic thinking.
“There is strategy involved in some of these games,” Newcomb said. “There is critical thinking, real-time problem solving, reactionary time – those are all things we use in traditional sports. We’re just applying them in a different way.”
For some, the debate about whether e-sports can be considered a sport in the first place comes down to the basics of what sports are. For some traditional athletes, that physical component is needed in order for something to be considered a sport.
“Without a lot of understanding of it, I would also agree that it’s not a sport, just because it lacks that physical component,” Flanders said. “I can see how you need to incorporate team building and strategy, but I think that to be a sport, it has to have a taxing physical and mental component. I’m sure it has that mental taxing ability, but it lacks that physical contribution which, in my option, makes it less of a sport and more like chess.”
Regardless of whether you agree that e-sports is a sport, there is no doubt that the industry around it is growing.
Newcomb said that as someone who is training in sport management, he sees the need for him and his classmates to understand how to incorporate the needs of e-sport teams into their facilities and how incorporate rules and regulations for e-sports.
In the end, Cianciotta and Flanders said that they needed to learn more about e-sports and would be open to watching live streams when competition season began.
“I think a lot of people who question e-sports don’t really know what it is,” Gaffney said. “It’s teambuilding, it helps people connect over a shared interest. It’s going to keep growing.”
Recruitment for League of Legends is currently in place. The final team members will be decided by November 30, before the collegiate season begins.
Following that, recruitment for Overwatch and Hearthstone will be taking place respectively in December. A date has yet to be announced for try-outs for Rocket League and Super Smash Brothers.
In order to make all this possible, a private donor has provided the funds necessary to build the gaming lounge and fund a multi-year program.
Team members will be playing from devices connected to the Internet through ethernet cables, meaning that other students will not be affected by heavy WiFi usage during practices. This also allows the team to stream their games directly to Twitch.tv, a game-streaming website, during competition season.
Corrected on 11/21/19 to clarify the team’s official status on campus.