By: Tabitha Robinson
On Feb. 17, the department of athletics announced that electronic sports, otherwise known as esports, will be coming to UMW in the fall of 2023, according to the UMW Athletics website. The program will include a competitive group of approximately 25 student-athletes and a casual group of approximately 75 student-athletes.
“Gaming and athletic participation have always been popular at UMW,” said Assistant Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Caitlin Moore. “The opportunity to expand and enhance students’ co-curricular engagement, career development and friendships with an esports program reflects our unique student culture.”
According to Moore, esports has many of the same features of traditional sports. It is made up of many teams competing in virtual or face-to-face video game tournaments. Like traditional sports, esports has winners and losers, teams, standings and prizes. Players test their skills in a competitive environment.
Moore believes that an esports team will benefit students of all gaming levels.
“This is a great co-curricular engagement opportunity, from the casual to the competitive sides of the program,” Moore said. “The casual program will be open to those that have an affinity for gaming, but not an interest in dedicating significant time each week.” The competitive group is for students who are more serious about competing.
Sophomore computer science major Stephen McCarthy notes esports’s less physical nature as one of its strengths. “I didn’t really know esports existed until I started playing League of Legends in 2016,” said McCarthy. “What’s so great about esports is how accessible it is. You don’t need to be really strong or in peak physical condition; you just need to be willing to learn. It gives people like me, who don’t really enjoy playing or watching traditional sports, a way to enjoy their best aspects in a field they’re more comfortable with.”
McCarthy also sees esports as a way to connect people within the constraints of the pandemic.
“Being part of a team is a really powerful experience, and that’s been very challenging these past few years,” said McCarthy. “Esports are a great avenue to provide that experience to a much wider range of people.”
The athletics department will also be hiring a director of esports in the summer of 2022. According to the UMW Athletics website, “This position will be responsible for all facets of the program, including but not limited to strategic planning, recruitment and retention, grade monitoring … and practice and game preparation.”
According to Moore, the esports program will be able to use several spaces on campus for practice and competition. Moore believes that Mary Washington can provide large spaces to host tournaments, fostering relationships with other universities and even high schools.
“In addition, the University boasts several spaces that can welcome spectators for competitive events, including the hosting of high school tournaments,” said Moore. “With esports, UMW is introducing a program that aligns strategically with university culture and has high potential to address a top priority: the attraction and retention of students.”
However, junior biomedical sciences major Ryan Meek does not think adding an esports team is helpful to the school. “I personally do not see why we added esports instead of other sports,” said Meek, who participates in club volleyball. “The guys on the club volleyball team have always wished for more opportunities to play their sport, so I do not understand why this is our new addition.”
However, McCarthy believes the esports program will attract future students. “Esports are the future of sports and getting in early is a really good idea,” said McCarthy. “So UMW having an esports program is going to attract many potential students. I don’t know yet how our esports program is going to work, but I’m looking forward to being a part of it in any capacity I can be.”
Senior biomedical sciences major Bennet Varghese also believes an esports team will be beneficial.
“I think this creates more space for people to express themselves and create community,” said Varghese. “I think we do a disservice to our peers when we only market and press into the most well known athletic sports like football, basketball, soccer, etc. But what about people who don’t enjoy that? We should be catering to all people and making it known that they belong here too!”