ANDERSON — As a youngster in Elgin, Illinois, Hannag Gross satisfied her need for competition by participating in online multiplayer video games.
Lured by a friend in the dance program, the Anderson University senior majoring in acting is able to get the same satisfying rush as a member of the varsity esports team.
“I guess what really drove me to this was that I really enjoyed the community,” she said.
AU is one of many K-12 schools building on the popularity of video games by creating esports teams. Anderson High School created a similar team a few years ago.
Gross, 22, became interested in video games through her brother, but only played recreationally until she got to college.
“For me, they are relaxing even if they can be a little overwhelming at times, but it’s all about having fun.”
For Gross, who got involved when esports was a club, said becoming a competitive basketball, soccer or tennis team means video games are taken more seriously.
“It’s good to be recognized as a real sport rather than a club of interest because we dedicate time to practice.”
As one of the students who helped persuade the university to convert the esports club into a competitive team, Gross said it gave UA another marketing edge as officials recruited students.
For their part, UA officials went all out in the summer of 2020, hiring Matt Burnstedt as their full-time head esports coach and providing a computer lab where students can practice and compete against 13 other schools in of the Great Lakes Esports Conference. It turned out to be a big decision as the nation went into isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“They have had great success with many students joining the program,” he said. “It’s something that students can get involved in, which is different from traditional sports, but still gives them an outlet to be competitive.”
Since the fall was the first half of competition, the AU team has struggled growing up, Burnstedt said.
“Last semester we tried and learned from it,” he said. “Competitively we are on the right track and I think we will see results. I’m trying a lot of feedback this semester, and this semester we’re doing a lot better.
Burnstedt, who says he is “fluent” in “Super Smash” and “League of Legends,” is challenged to coach students whose specialties are games other than his own and whose skills sometimes exceed his own. Among them are Jackson Long and Rico Mandolini, who are among the top 200 “Rocket League” players in the world.
The university attracted approximately 51 students divided into nine teams, including a broadcast team. Teams are formed based on the game they are playing.
Teams for specific games are formed for an eight-week competitive season as students show interest and recruit their friends.
Rather than common tryouts in other sports, students register through open registration depending on the game they wish to participate in.
Although there is a starting line-up of five players on match day, Burnstedt said the aim is to give anyone who is interested and has trained for a specific game the opportunity to play.
“Surprisingly, a lot of coaching revolves around communication, even though video games seem like a solitary activity for a lot of people.”
With continued growth in an industry where the best players can turn professional just like in any other sport, UA officials have struggled with the idea of taking the next step and developing a class or major. towards a career in the video game industry. . It is possible that UA will one day add courses in business or game design, but it is difficult to determine how these might differ from the traditional courses already offered and to find instructors with these areas of expertise. specific, he said.
Freshman Asher Glover, 19, from Pendleton who commuted rather than lived on campus his first semester, said he joined esports to meet other students.
“From the games I play, it’s extremely team-based, so you have to have the trust of your teammates,” the music industry major said.
Esports is a good alternative for those who lack the athleticism of traditional sports, said Glover, whose specialty is “Valorant,” which is similar to “Call of Duty.”
“It ties into the game I played the most and was most comfortable with the way the mechanics of the game were,” he said of his team pick.
The teams train on Tuesday and face each other on Saturday. As in other sports, they review their games through recordings.
“It’s a bit like watching the playback of a football match where you can see how you can improve.”
To follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.