Cole Hartman plays video games from his setup in his bedroom. Photo by Jacob Osborn

“Next round, let’s slow push A.” 

As he sits in his bedroom, illuminated by a single lamp and the beaming PC monitor in front of him, Cole Hartman calls out the strategy to his four teammates. As his day unwinds, there is still work to be done. 

Hartman, 21, a senior electrical engineering student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln works to balance competitive gaming with schooling. Electrical engineering remains one of the most challenging college majors according to many academic rankings like Prep Scholar and Big Economics. It brings even more of a challenge to Hartman and his time commitment to competitive gaming. Known online as “LilPoverty”, Hartman has made the change from one first-person shooter to another as he previously competed in Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and took his talents to Valorant. Hartman wants to continue to push boundaries in college esports while pursuing his passion in electrical engineering. 

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Cole Hartman plays Valorant. Photo by Jacob Osborn/UNLimited Sports

College esports, beginning around 2009, emerged and began to take shape in 2014 at Robert Morris University in Chicago, Illinois. As of 2021, over 200 schools are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). In 2016, Midland University became the first university in Nebraska to launch a varsity esports program, offering scholarships to high-skilled student-athletes to attend college. York College and Concordia University also followed suit and became member programs while UNL remains on the sideline,  still failing to make the big commitment and expand its esports programs. 

UNL maintains active organizations and teams participating in League of Legends Club and Nebraska Esports while attempting to build an audience. Even with the lack of a varsity esports program, Hartman is still dedicated to representing the university. 

“I want to win and show off our school well,” Hartman said, adding, “We have a UNL Esports Club Discord (an instant messaging and digital distribution platform). There’s a lot of people in there who watch the games and root for us so I’m motivated by them and their encouragement.” 

With practices and matches, coupled with the schoolwork, it can all become time-consuming for Hartman. 

“If we do two practices and a game a week, that’s already 8 to 10 hours,” Hartman said, adding, “I’m a full-time student, so it’s anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week there. It’s somewhere between a 50 and 60 hour work week if you include being an esports player.” 

From the outside looking in, as a full-time electrical engineering student and esports player himself, Hartman’s roommate Preston Sorensen is able to understand how much time and effort is put into school and gaming. 

“Schoolwork, I see more frequently,” Sorensen said, adding, “I see his coding on his monitors and what’s on his breadboards. He’ll always show me how much work he’s been doing since like 8:30 in the morning.” 

Learning to balance school and gaming is one thing, maintaining a healthy balance between the two posed a major obstacle for Hartman in his early college days. 

As with anything in life, video games can be an addictive habit that one can find themselves in. 

From an early age, Hartman developed many addictions. His mother, Linda Hartman, recalls things like solving the algorithms for a Rubik’s Cube for hours and computer problem-solving games. As time progressed, Cole expressed how he would later spend countless hours online improving his aim in video games on aim training servers. 

Hartman said, “I barely enjoyed what I was doing but I was doing it for the sake of improving and I fell in love with the idea of grinding out a task until I achieved mastery.” 

As time went on, addiction would continue to find its way. 

Hartman found himself struggling his first two years of college. Gaming was becoming an addiction and taking away from his schooling. Most importantly, he said it was taking away from his social life and interaction with family and friends. 

“The trap I generally found myself in was that I was making excuses as to why I was spending so much time online,” adding, “There was prize money to win and teammates that you didn’t want to let down. It’s extremely difficult to see a trap when you’re stuck inside one.” 

And Hartman was ultimately stuck in this trap. 

Hartman added, “I don’t regret it, however there are times I wonder what my early adulthood could have been if I had not dedicated so much time to gaming.” 

This predicament is what has led so many to wonder how young adults like Hartman fall victim to these kinds of addictions. 

“I think early college students are much more susceptible. Sudden freedom and independence play huge roles in forming these addictions,” Sorensen said. 

Hartman could attest. 

 “Those things coupled with having my own place to live definitely helped fuel the addiction. When there’s no one to moderate how much time I was spending, it was extremely easy to get carried away with the amount of hours I was logging,” Hartman said. 

But even with addiction, positives came about. 

“I don’t think his gaming addiction was always really a negative,” Linda Hartman said, adding, “I would rather see him sitting in his room with a headset on than getting drunk at the bar or going to parties. I always knew where he was. So it didn’t bother me as much that he was sitting in his room gaming and making friends and building great connections and bonding with his team.” 

And that’s exactly what he did. 

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Cole Hartman competes at a LAN event. Photo by Kento Warner

Hartman made many friends through playing online competitively. Hartman said he had truly met some friends for life, being able to bond with them online and in person. Even more so, Hartman became roommates with a teammate during his sophomore year of college. Things like LAN (Local Area Network) events in Kansas City and Lincoln helped Hartman make more connections with others. 

“It served as a great way to meet new, like-minded people and share a passion for a game everyone there loved,” Hartman said. 

When his junior year began to roll around, Hartman began to realize that gaming had very little value into his future and the career that he wanted to have. He began to notice his gaming addiction slowly going away as things like relationships, schoolwork, and music began to spark his interests. 

“His gaming has led to so many other really great hobbies for him,” Linda Hartman said. 

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Cole Hartman strums his guitar. Photo by Jacob Osborn/UNLimited Sports

In addition to gaming and doing school, Hartman took up becoming a guitarist and learning, practicing and playing on a consistent basis. He also began playing recreational league softball in the summer and fall. 

As Hartman turns off the bedroom lights, switches on his PC, boots up the game and puts on his headset, he’s called it a day in the school books. But his day of gaming has only just begun. But it’s different now. With growing in life, it has brought new interests at hand and Hartman has found that balance to avoid and grow out of addiction. 

“What you have to do is learn the balance. Addiction is this consistent return to a habit in order to achieve a goal, which is desire. Desire can be good as it motivates one to be competitive and to succeed. But you can find yourself consumed by the desire to where it takes away from other responsibilities. Make sure to reflect from time to time.”