by SKY SHANE
Starting this fall, UMW is offering a new athletic program: esports. Short for electronic sports, esports is made up of teams competing in various video games against each other in face-to-face and virtual tournaments.
“It gives me an excuse to play video games for school,” said sophomore creative writing major Jack Yatsko, a member of the “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” team. “I would go back to my room, do homework for an hour then play video games. This gives me a place to do it so I’m not stuck in my room all day. That’s my favorite part about it!”
While their season doesn’t officially start until fall 2023, they are actively recruiting members for as far out as 2027. Esports is currently just playing activation games to help practice and hone their skills before beginning competition.
“At this moment in time, we have an excellent opportunity to introduce a new team sport program that aligns well with University priorities and has high potential to attract and retain students,” said Director of Athletics Patrick Catullo.
The UMW esports program has both a competitive and casual division. Competitors play two different games at the moment: “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and “Valorant.”
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a platform-fighter style game published by Nintendo that features fan-favorite characters such as Link from the “Legend of Zelda” series, Pikachu from the various “Pokemon” games, Mario from the “Mario Brothers” games and Sonic from various self-titled games. “Valorant,” is a free-to-play first person shooter developed by Riot Games, which has created popular games such as “League of Legends” and “Legends of Runeterra.”
Mark Link, a graduate from Randolph-Macon College, has been an esports coach since March of 2020. He is also certified in leadership through the BB&T Athlete Academy and was hired over the summer to be the director of the UMW esports team.
“I was a collegiate esports athlete, so seeing how that program was run and how I was able to play and the experience, and the friendships, and the teamwork I made throughout that was something I really hoped to bring to a college campus,” said Link. “We are starting this program here from the ground up and I’m kind of being the one to build it.”
While esports is only playing “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and “Valorant” at the moment, Link hopes to include larger titles such as “Overwatch 2,” “League of Legends” and “Rocket League.” He also plans to potentially include smaller titles such as “2K” and “Madden” and more first person shooters such as “Call of Duty” and “Rainbow Six Siege.” The games are decided based on student interest and what games have competitions.
On Feb. 17, the University announced that esports would be coming to UMW. The program is currently focusing on building their space on campus, which is in the old commuter lounge on the third floor of the UC, and growing their numbers on campus. They are in the process of joining the National Association of Collegiate Esports where they will be able to have greater avenues to compete against other larger schools.
Esports has given many student athletes a chance to still compete, interact with teammates and do something they love even after being injured.
“I played esports at my last university,” said computer science major and junior transfer student Mason Crim. “I was just a casual gamer and I played baseball. After I was injured, I became a lot more competitive with gaming.”
Students are enjoying that the university is diversifying their athletics department. Many other local universities are adding esports teams, such as Germanna Community College and Bridgewater College.
Junior elementary education major Libby York said, “It is just cool to see people branching out into different fields of athletics.”