NEOSHO, MO. — Since the coronavirus pandemic began, almost every collegiate sport has been impacted in some way. Seasons have been postponed, altered or even cancelled all together.
But, there’s one sport that’s managed to make it through mostly unaffected. That’s electronic sports, better known as esports.
Almost each night of the week, you can find the Crowder College esports team with head sets on and controllers in hand.
“I like the fact that everybody here plays video game and likes them just as much as me,” said Carlos Salas who plans to join the esports team next semester. “So, I mean, that’s pretty cool.”
But this isn’t just all fun and games. Just like any other sports team, they practice, compete against other schools and even offer scholarships.
“You know, there’s a difference between someone sitting at home, playing video games and someone playing competitive esports just like there’s a difference between someone throwing around a baseball in their backyard and being in the MLB,” Crowder esports coach Jackson Lewis. “It’s a matter of skill, the amount of practice time that goes in. There is so much to it.”
However, what does separate it from traditional sports is that players don’t have to be present to participate. It can all be done virtually, which has helped esports continue to thrive even during the pandemic.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, I would say we haven’t run into any issues and we were the only spring sport that got to finish our regular season last spring so that was exciting,” said Lewis.
This semester, participation in esports at crowder has increased 50 percent since last semester.
Lucas Carter joined the team this semester after learning about it on the school’s website.
“I saw the esports thing show up and I play a lot of Fortnite on the side so I saw like all the games like Overwatch, Rainbow and Fortnite on there, a couple other games and I thought, ‘Oh hey, I should look into that.”
Esports teams across the country are seeing similar growth as well. According to research from Grand Canyon University, the number of collegiate esports programs grew almost 40 percent in 2019, with over 400 programs across the U.S.
“It’s been a huge hit,” said Lewis. “It’s definitely been able to help a lot of students that otherwise might not have had an avenue to pay for school, so now they’ll be able to come back in the spring and continue playing and continuing their education. So, that’s been awesome.”
The growth of esports isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon.