by Chloe Jordan | staff writer
A student at St. Mary’s University wakes up, drives to school, and heads to practice. Not basketball, not volleyball, but a sport that requires a computer and attention to detail. Esports are multiplayer competitive video games played by professional gamers for spectators.
The SMU esports program was officially launched in March of this year. Most students are allowed to join the program, under certain circumstances.
“As long as they are a full time student in good academic standing, they are invited to participate in tryouts, and based on the results of tryouts, myself and my staff will pick students for respective teams,” Teniente said.
So far, there aren’t different skill level teams for players, but there are different kinds of tryouts.
“For this first year, we’ve kept everything at the varsity level, but we do have a possibility of adding junior varsity teams for teams that we think couldn’t be sister teams or maybe those players just need an extra year of development while they’re at St. Mary’s,” Teniente said. “I will say, for tryouts, we have two different kinds of tryouts. We have St. Mary’s only tryouts and then we have open tryouts. Open tryouts are open for anyone – junior in college looking to transfer, incoming freshmen, high school juniors and seniors who are looking at different programs would all be welcome to come participate in open tryouts.”
Students mainly compete against nearby schools in Texas, but there are some nation-wide competitions.
“It’s always going to depend on the game. Everything in esports is basically a big ‘it depends’,” Teniente said. “We compete in six different college leagues, and each of our matches or match days are going to be against schools in our region, mostly Texas schools, but sometimes it’ll just be a full bracket of whoever is participating across the country.”
Since the launch of the program, progress has been made for students and staff learning to coach and be on the team.
“I think overall I’m pretty satisfied with everything we’ve been able to accomplish so far,” Teniente said. “In the spring, we’ve set up a lot of the groundwork to build the community – the Discord, the social media accounts, planning tryouts in the summer. Fall now, is really where we’ve found our footing.”
The arena was previously a classroom that has since then been refurbished into a techy, up-to-date arena, complete with PCs and gaming chairs.
“In a previous life [the arena] was an auditorium-style classroom. The only things that really remain of the old room are the tables and walls,” Teniente said. “Everything else had been removed, so now we’ve got 15 PCs set up. I think every esports arena looks a little bit different, but ours is an old refurbished room. But it looks pretty cool – you would never have known.”
Students do not have to pay fees for being in the arena or for competing.
“This arena is basically treated like the equivalent of the soccer field for a soccer team. So, for our student athletes this would be where they practice, where they have their matches, and that’s something we provide to our varsity athletes,” Teniente said.
The SMU esports program participates in the games Rainbow 6 Siege, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Fortnite.
“Typically, we start playing in late September, early October and the leagues break around the same times we do. Most of the seasons in the springtime end in late April,” Teniente said.
The arena is located in the university center.
“Typically people kind of refer to it as the heart of campus,” Teniente said. “So, when you walk into our university center, you’ll see our Chick-Fil-A, our bookstore, and right above it will be the esports arena.”
SMU is currently only offering academic scholarships for students in the program.
“But year two, based on our enrollment numbers and based on performance of year one, we’ll start figuring out how much scholarship we can start setting aside, specifically for the esports athletes.”
There are currently 23 student athletes. There are five students on the League of Legends team, seven on the Overwatch team, six on the Fortnite roster, and five on Rainbow 6 Siege.
“Our policy is whatever you win, you keep,” Teniente said. “So, there is that prize pull incentive, however, I think overall some of the bigger incentives are playing on a team, representing your school, all of the student athlete parts that come with that, being able to be in the arena, the jersey that you get and some of the other things that come along with that.”
Coaches rely on each other to keep the program alive.
“When it comes to a game I’m not very familiar with, generally the plan is to find someone who is or who could coach for specific strategies or rely heavily on that team’s team captain,” Teniente said. “I definitely lean on my team and others for those areas where I cannot provide help.”
Twitch was the idea for the original platform to stream competitions and games, but working with a smaller staff and COVID complications has challenged that a bit.
“One of the challenges that we have found is a lot of our matches happen at the same time – Saturday at 2 pm is a default time because of our games,” Teniente said. “And because of health and safety measures, we have to be mindful of when we’re in the arena. We can’t always have as many people in the arena to help with these broadcasts. And, if anything comes up, it definitely becomes a challenge.”
Esports has deeper meaning than just staring at a screen or sitting around all day.
“I think it’s more than just the video games. I think the video games are what entice people to try out and what entices people to stay, but I think realistically the benefits are a sense of community,” Teniente said. “I get although video games may be the medium, I feel that what they take away is that sense of comradery, that sense of sportsmanship, and also those skills that they can apply to their schoolwork. Giving feedback, communicating – that’s pretty important, I feel.”