Down, right, up, left and then hit the X.
Those aren’t the directions to Saint Leo’s Esports Arena on its St. Leo campus. Rather, quite possibly, the moves are the sequence of controller buttons pounded away by a member of the Lions’ Esports varsity team.
“It’s more than just playing video games,” Saint Leo University senior and team captain Caleb Hunt said. “It’s strategy and competition, and being teammates. A lot more goes into it than just playing the game.”
The Saint Leo University Esports Team isn’t just some club either. It’s a college-funded and sponsored competitive intercollegiate team, just not under the NCAA, said Dr. Jen Shaw, vice president of Student Affairs.
“Our other teams in this category are Sporting Clays Team, GoldRush Dance Team and Cheerleading Team,” she said.
“The popularity of esports is rapidly growing across the nation, and I think this is just a great opportunity for Saint Leo’s students to compete and have fun,” University President Jeffrey Senese added. “It’s also a great way to showcase Saint Leo’s computer science and cybersecurity programs.”
The Lions compete in the NACE (National Association of Collegiate Esports) and also are a part of CLoL, which is Collegiate League of Legends, one of the five games the team plays in competition. (The other four are Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Overwatch, Rocker League and Valorant).
With 30-plus players, the team recently celebrated the first anniversary of its Esports Arena opening. And, believe it or not, having a “tech-y” major isn’t a prerequisite to be on the team.
“We actually have a couple of English majors on the team,” said senior Pedro Quintao, who is the team’s student coach and IT guru. “Actually, we have a lot of psych majors, too. We might actually have every major this school offers, so really you just have to be good at the games and a team player.”
Another major aspect is casting the gameplay, mainly on the popular gaming one, Twitch. The Lions’ Esports Team has a casting station that they use to show the gameplay and have commentary on the match, just like watching a sporting match on TV.
“That’s why it’s not just about playing the games,” said Gabi Rodriguez, a senior from Peru, majoring in the Bachelor of Arts in Communication and one of the team’s casters. “Not only do we teach how to become (a gaming) pro, we teach them how to cast — how to talk about the game and to apply themselves in the esports scene because they might not want to be a pro player, but still part of esports.”
Esports is one of the most rapidly growing sports and revenue is predicted to surpass $2.5 billion in 2022. This is one of the many reasons more and more colleges are getting esports teams. There are 12 in Florida — USF, Florida Southern, and Rollins, to name a few.
“We’ve been hitting some top victories with (our best) game: League of Legends,” the team’s coach, Bovey Zhang, said. “We beat Texas A&M and Saint Mary’s, and we’re hosting a Smash Mouth Match on March 26.”
While there is hard work with practice and strategizing involved, there’s also fun and games, while gaming. The team also is building the Saint Leo campus, block by block, with incredible detail, on Minecraft.
That’s during the players’ downtime. Then it’s back to the whiteboard, with X’s and O’s.
Just like the buttons on their controllers.
“What people don’t realize about esports,” Zhang said, “is that it isn’t just one game. As a coach and manager, I’m coaching five different games. That’s a big workload, so you have to time and balance everything. We have to still strategize — we’re always practicing, we’re always playing and so we’re always trying to do different things. It is a lot of collaborative work, a lot of working together.
“But there’s a lot of interest in esports, and that’s a start.”
Published March 13, 2022