Esports Provide Another Avenue for Competition


by Denton Postlewait
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — The world of Electronic Sports continues to expand into pop culture in the United States and around the world, but it includes more than just playing video games.

According to www.statista.com, over 1.435 billion people knew about esports in 2018, but the number could grow to 1.57 billion in 2019. At the collegiate level, over 130 schools and more than 3,000 students participate in esports, according to www.nacesports.org, the governing body of college esports.  A large number of the worldwide population know about esports and the number grows every year.

In fall 2015, Matthew Strack started the Arkansas State Rocket League Club with some friends. It started as something innocent; just a way to blow off steam after class. However, he quickly realized that it could become something more, especially at the collegiate level. The professional esports ranks featured players who make money playing games like “League of Legends,” “Counter Strike: Go” and of course, “Rocket League.” Strack tried to find collegiate “Rocket League” competition but realized it had not yet been created. So Strack, along with help from students at Purdue University and Rochester Institute of Technology, decided to create it and thus the “College Carball League” began in spring 2016.

“We really just played for fun. Our first real scrimmage was against Purdue’s team and we won,” Strack said. “As esports grew, ‘Rocket League’ grew, and we formed the College Carball Association, which helped found the ‘College Rocket League.’ It’s the official body for ‘Rocket League.'”

“Rocket League” is one of the newer esports on the rise with the likes of “Fortnite” and “Apex Legends,” among others. It may be easy to think competitive gaming formed recently, but quite the opposite occurred. According to www.medium.com, the first-ever esports competition began in 1972 at Stamford University, with the game of choice being “Spacewar!” From then on, the United States and the world became hooked on video games.

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Arkansas State senior Jakobe Hardee trains extensively to stay on top of his game.  (Photo by Denton Postlewait)

A-State “Rocket League” President Jakobe Hardee said he started his esports career by wanting to become a professional “Call of Duty” player. However, after discovering “Rocket League,” his gaming path changed. Hardee played video games as a child and knew early on that if he really worked hard at them, it would pay off.

“I played a lot of ‘Call of Duty’ and had hopes and dreams of becoming a professional,” Hardee said. “The first time I played ‘Rocket League,’ I enjoyed it, but it really didn’t catch my eye.”

While certainly not love at first sight, Hardee gave “Rocket League” another chance a few months later.

“I went back to ‘Call of Duty’ for a couple more months, but decided I wanted to play something else,” he said. “One day I saw it in my game library, played it again and I was hooked. I’ve been playing it ever since.”

Hardee said it takes a lot of hard work to become competitive in esports. Some days he plays for 10 hours or more, working on different skills to stay atop his game. Aside from physically playing the game, Hardee says he does a lot of replay analysis to see what areas of the game he can improve on and then practices those skills, while also learning new mechanics of the game. With  “Rocket League” only being a few years old, the way the game is played is constantly evolving.

“You have to split your time between playing the game and reviewing the clips to see where you can improve,” he said.

When he’s not going to class or training, Hardee runs a practice discord (an app that allows for communication between users in a chat) for aspiring players. Hardee says what makes “Rocket League” so intriguing is players do not form preconceptions about what the game is like. Players who compete in “Rocket League” started from the same level.

From the outside, esports may not seem to be expanding. However, the Arkansas Athletic Association recently partnered with Play Vs, an esports league from California that primarily focuses on high schools. With this partnership, over 80 schools in the Natural State have formed esports teams and will begin competition in the fall of 2019. This announcement marked a huge win for the esports community, especially in Arkansas. Within weeks of the announcement, Arkansas State University announced the launch of an esports team and over 200 interested students reached out.

Another avenue for players in Arkansas who want to become competitive is The Southern Amateur Esports League. Based out of Little Rock, SAE allows players from Arkansas a chance to grow as players and gain valuable “big stage” gaming experience. Co-Founder and Community Director of Southern Amateur Esports Drew Foote said his company formed to be basically AAU for gamers.

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Launched Feb. 4, 2019, Apex Legends boasts over 25 million active players. Photo by Denton Postlewait

“The Amateur Athletic Union is known for one thing, but they govern a lot of different sports,” he said. “With esports, each game is a different sport. I based SAE off of the AAU system.”

SAE continues to grow exponentially since its inception. Foote said the first event held only brought in about 30 people. However, the last event hosted by SAE brought in over 120 people and only 60 were players. Foote said the goal of SAE will be to give players an experience like the professional players that they’ll never forget. Foote does not just want to help players grow, he wants to grow the industry.

“I want to bring the esports experience and economy to Arkansas,” he said. “I want to create jobs in this industry. For me, it is about providing an opportunity to change lives through esports.”

Today video games seem to be more popular than ever. With revenue expected to topple $1 billion in 2019, the gaming community will see an even larger influx of interested players. Connectivity and competition form the foundation for the growth of esports. Esports represent the future of competition.

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