Saint Mary’s University student Audrie Au was wandering through the campus recently when she came across something unexpected.
Au, a third-year commerce student from Malaysia, arrived in Halifax a few months ago.
Her tour took her to the basement of the McNally East building. It was there she spotted something called the Esports Arena, a computer lab that’s been converted into a state-of-the-art gaming lab for students to use recreationally or as part of competitive teams.
“I was excited because I personally enjoy playing esports recreationally, so when I saw that there was this facility on campus I was really happy about it,” said Au.
Long known for its athletics, Saint Mary’s University is now in the esports game and will have teams competing against other colleges and universities in four esports: Rocket League, Apex Legends, Valorant and League of Legends.
Au tried out for the Rocket League team. Her fate remains unknown with a second tryout on the horizon.
Connor Miller is the coach of the League of Legends team. He’s thrilled the university now has esports teams.
The Saint Mary’s alumnus graduated in 2016 and played esports informally while he was a student. “It was more of a society versus an actual extension of the university,” he said.
Ben Jackson had the same experience.
“We kind of had to do it on the side of whatever we were studying, or on the side of whatever we were doing for work and it almost felt more like a hobby, even though we felt very passionate about it,” said the former Saint Mary’s student.
He remembers esports players having to bring their computers to a common space so that they could play together.
Jackson is the general manager of the League of Legends team. He used to use the Esports Arena for its former purpose.
“It was basically a computer lab that was fairly quiet,” he said. “I used to enjoy doing work down there.”
Tryouts for the League of Legends team were held in September. Nineteen people tried out and the session lasted around four hours.
Teams include coach, GM
The team’s roster has been announced with 10 players being equally divided between A and B teams. Much like traditional sports, players fill certain roles and play collectively as a team.
As coach, Miller will be responsible for helping develop the players’ skills. He’ll even be reviewing their game tape and offering feedback on how they can improve.
As general manager, Jackson’s tasks will include creating schedules and booking tournaments.
Purists may dismiss esports as actual sport.
“I think it’s something that’s going to be debated likely over the next couple of years, for sure,” said Jackson.
“But it’s something that does require a lot of brain power. It does require co-ordination between you and your teammates and in that way I think it’s very much a sport.”
Miller said the question comes down to a generational perspective on video games, which he said are becoming increasingly mainstream.
23 million Canadians play video games
According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 23 million Canadians play video games. It says the video game industry contributed $5.5 billion to Canada’s economy in 2021.
Miller sees the Esports Arena as a way of bringing students together.
“It’s demonstrating its potential as a welcoming space for anyone who has interest in video games, whether it be recreational or competitive,” he said. “It’s a very unique opportunity to participate in person rather than just online.”
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