UCC Riverhawks compete nationally against other colleges in the NJCAA

Published by Chris Machado on

Esports, eSports, and E-sports; no matter how you spell it, the term generally refers to competitions held over popular video games. The name, short for “electronic sports,” originated in the 1950s and the gaming sport has grown considerably since the 90’s with the rise of console gaming and high-speed internet. Many community colleges around the nation are now participating in esports; 2021 marks the second year the UCC Riverhawks esports team competes.

With rising popularity, esports tournaments are selling out arenas and captivating millions of online viewers for the most popular game titles. For example, the League of Legends World Championship in 2016 had more spectators at 43 million viewers than the deciding game of the Stanley Cup between the Sharks and Penguins. Currently, professional esports players can make a career out of their hobby, with the top 10 players earning over one million dollars each so far this year.

Riverhawks’ esports team plays in Student Arena.
Photo provided by Melinda Benton.

Though the college team has not reached this level of success, the Riverhawks get to display their hard work and prowess in the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports or NJCAAE—the only national esports association exclusively for two-year colleges.

Jace watches James in an Overwatch match.
Photo provided by Melinda Benton.

Some disregard esports as a real sport, partly because esports athletes often participate while sitting down and exert little to no physical activity—a requirement many definitions of the word sport have. Others point out that if sports like archery and chess are internationally recognized, esports should be included as well. Riverhawk Coach RJ Mills states that esports is exhilarating to watch as “the strategies and mental quickness required to excel are as rigorous as any other sport.”

Cean and James team up in Overwatch.
Photo provided by Melinda Benton.

Whatever they are considered, many esports require exceptional hand-eye coordination, speedy reaction times, strategy and “game sense” – a term gamers loosely use to describe instinct or situational awareness in their virtual platform. Many of these skills are developed through hundreds – if – not – thousands of practice hours.

Captain Stephanie Orr improves the team by analyzing gameplay to identify mistakes and areas of improvement.
Photo provided by Melinda Benton.

Video games are categorized by genre, with gaming genres determined by their gameplay characteristics. Six common genres to esports enthusiasts are fighting, sports, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), first-person shooters (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS) and collectible card games (CCG). MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2 have been especially popular during the last decade. Many esports have varying team sizes determined by the game they play, yet the most common are two players against each other or teams of five competing against each other.

As a coach, Mills loves working with his team, being a part of the excitement – particularly when teams come together to perform amazing feats – and seeing his team’s hard work pay off. This year, he expects that the team can make it to the postseason for at least 2 of the 3 games they play. This is due, he says, to the players’ skill, competence, drive and teamwork.

The Riverhawks’ current roster includes 2 broadcasters and 8 players who participate in three popular games featured in their league: Super Smash Bros., a fighting game; Overwatch, a team-based FPS; and Rocket League, a team-based soccer game played with rocket-powered vehicles.

The team often practices at the esports arena at the UCC Student Center, at other times they play from home. One advantage esports has over traditional sports is that participation isn’t limited to the geographic area – one reason it was able to be started during the pandemic. The NJCAA features over 60 colleges from across the nation that the Riverhawks can compete against and is quickly growing.

For more information on the Riverhawks esports team, contact RJ Mills or consult the Riverhawks Homepage. To watch some of the games UCC plays in, the team often casts games on Twitch.

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