University adds competitive video gaming
GALLOWAY, N.J. (AP) — The days of college athletics being defined by the swinging of a bat or throwing of a ball are over.
Students bustle inside a repurposed computer lab on a chilly February morning at the Galloway campus of Stockton University.
Voices overlap the mashing of keys and frantic clicking of mouses.
This lab plays host — much like a field or court — to Stockton’s newest competitive program: its eSports team.
Yes, the university has entered the realm of competitive video gaming, meeting a demand for a growing trend around the globe in the process.
This isn’t some fly-by-night club of college students looking to kill time or skip class.
Records are kept and championships awarded. This is a legit collegiate sport.
The team of around 50 players belongs to the Eastern College Athletic Conference and is one of 23 schools in that group competing in eSports.
“We are always looking for new and different ways to add value to colleges that are members and we kept hearing many of them were interested in competitive eSports,” ECAC President Dan Coonan told The Daily Journal. “Enrollment has been great and you can really market it to a new demographic of folks. A lot of the eSports competitors we see fall under that science, technology, engineering and math umbrella, but not exclusively.”
Dianna Marinelli is a biology major at Stockton who has taken on a significant role with the eSports team.
She is manager for the college’s “Overwatch” squad, which is one of four games Stockton plays competitively in the ECAC. The others are “Fortnite,” ″League of Legends” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”
Stockton also has teams for “Apex Legends,” ″Hearthstone” and “Rocket League,” though they are not supported by the ECAC yet.
Marinelli, 21, of Galloway, already played “Overwatch” at home and was intrigued when rumblings of a possible eSports team coming to Stockton started to spread.
“I’ve always liked eSports,” Marinelli said. “I watch the competitive play, the pro players, so when I heard we were going to have an eSports team I was like I have to get in on that.”
In addition to playing, Marinelli is responsible for assembling the lineups for Stockton’s two “Overwatch” squads — Team A and Team B.
“There’s no varsity or junior varsity, or anything like that,” she said. “It’s just finding the right mix of everyone’s abilities for both teams.”
The teams do travel to different events on occasion, allowing them to network and meet their competition.
For students like Marinelli, the experience has changed her thoughts on the future.
“I’m studying biology and want to be a zoologist but with this I’m actually seeing career opportunities,” Marinelli said. “The fact that we have this is super nice. I’m already a manager and I realize I could get involved with this, something I’m already passionate about. So it’s opening a lot of career opportunities because I’m actually getting connections with people in the industry already.”
The eSports team has given 20-year-old Brian Kibelstis of Williamstown an outlet for his affinity for “Overwatch.”
Kibelstis had logged nearly 700 hours on the game in a year and a half’s time, so applying his talents while representing his college has been a nice change of pace for the geology and environmental science double major.
“It’s been very different because the coordination is just so much better with an actual team,” said Kibelstis, who also is minoring in biology. “That’s the biggest difference I’ve seen at this level.”
The Stockton teams play in a once barely-used lab turned eSports facility, which features 15 state-of-the-art computers outfitted specifically to accommodate online gaming.
Stockton launched its team at the start of the spring 2019 semester, while ECAC began hosting play in fall 2018.
The lab is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and accessible to any student with a valid Stockton student ID. You do not have to be a member of the team to log in and play a game.
Kibelstis stopped short of saying he’s in the eSports facility daily.
“Not quite, but pretty close,” he said. “And I’ve had days when I’m in here eight to 10 hours.”
That’s not an issue for Kibelstis, who has long juggled schoolwork with his love of gaming.
“I’m still pulling A’s and high B’s,” he joked.
Who is playing and for how long is, however, something the college can and does monitor, according to Stockton Chief Information Officer Scott Huston.
The facility has seen max usage on nights and weekends, he said, but the team maintains a cumulative GPA above 3.0.
“They’re keeping up with their studies and that’s obviously an important part of this,” Huston added.
The vision for the eSports team was originally that of Stockton Associate Director for Cyber Security Demetrios Roubos.
He’s been following the competitive gaming scene since around 2009 and had been pushing for this program at the college “for years.”
“Now that it’s more mainstream, it’s more palatable to push this initiative,” Roubos said. “And I think what they’re discovering is how many students are actually interested in it. So, you know, that’s the good stuff.”
Once Roubos got the green light, the desire from students to form the team was evident.
“At Stockton we saw a lot of interest really from a grassroots push,” Roubos said. “We put out a couple low-profile communications to the student body and we received a lot of positive feedback from the students, and we really used the word of mouth. The buzz generated through the students to get the initial interest in the teams.”
There is no limit set by the ECAC restricting the number of students who can be a part of the eSports team.
Aside from competitive aspect of the sport, there is an obvious social draw too. The team is very inclusive.
“This is really great from an accessibility standpoint in that any student that wants to compete is given the opportunity to do so,” Roubos said. “So that’s really great, to allow competitive play without having a skill cap or excluding anybody.”
The team plans to travel to Albany, New York, March 30-31, for the Hudson Valley Gamer Con 2019 where tournaments will be held in “Fortnite,” ″League of Legends” and “Overwatch.”
ECAC schools will be joined by teams from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the event.
It will mark the pinnacle of Stockton’s foray in competitive gaming to date.
“It’s exciting because it’s going to be our first event where the kids get to go face-to-face to compete against many of the teams they’ve already been playing against,” Roubos said.
That excitement is evident in the team as well.
“That’s going to be like the end all, be all,” Kibelstis said of HV Gamer Con. “That’s going to be like the tournament, so we’re definitely looking forward to competing there.”
Information from: The (Vineland, N.J.) Daily Journal, http://www.thedailyjournal.com