Clacking away at a keyboard and shouting gaming signals are some of the many sounds one can hear when in Concordia University’s dedicated space for their esports team in Seward.
Concordia is one of the many universities across Nebraska that has dedicated esports teams within its sports programs. Additionally, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently announcing its investment into esports, Nebraska is starting to see just how far it can expand into esports.
Ryan Hinds, head esports coach at Concordia, was recruited to start up the team and also coach the team in January 2020. Hinds said his experience coaching the Elm Creek High School esports team brings on many aspects that were new to him, such as recruiting students at an advanced level. Yet, Hinds said, seeing the students come together is the best part about coaching.
“One of my favorite parts of it is just interacting with the students,” Hinds said. “Helping them to all come together to work as a team and watch that synergy really start to shine, especially in game and then to watch them succeed throughout the season.”
With a roster of 15 students at Concordia Hinds isn’t the only coach that puts an emphasis on communication; Collin Tucker, head esports coach at York University, joined the team in January of 2021. Having played in video game tournaments before gave him a new perspective when it came to coaching.
“A lot of times, it’s just about communication and just communicating what you see to your teammates,” Tucker said. “What we try to focus on is effectively indicating positive communication because critique can happen in between rounds and between matches. But in the game, you need to be concise and clear in your communication.”
Coaching sports like football and basketball may seem different compared to esports but it’s more alike than one would think. Tucker said that mixing up how they practice and interact with one another is important for connections within the team.
“This week and next week, before we get into finals, I’m planning to do some different practices that we will have just to get the team together, and specifically to get all the different teams together,” Tucker said. “We compete for a lot of different titles. Most of the students within the program don’t actually see most of the students during the school year, because they just practice with their other five to 10 people playing their game. So getting everybody together at the same time, it’s always good just to kind of branch out and have other people.”
Just like any sport, esports harbors a range of emotions especially in high-stakes situations, Tucker said. He places a heavy emphasis on how processing these emotions can help students.
“I always have to remind players it’s a game,” Tucker said. “We are always focused on learning, not necessarily winning or losing. Learning from the game, learning from our mistakes, learning from our wins and learning from our strengths in order to perform at our best the next time.”
Like other collegiate sports ensuring students are on track to graduate is something coaches also have to keep an eye on. According to Hinds, Concordia has a system in place that will inform coaches if their student is falling behind in certain courses.
“It’ll tell me if they’ve been attending class, if they have missing assignments or if they have a really low test grade,” Hinds said. “And so I get those every month, then I talk with my students about things like, ‘Hey, here’s the classes that I need you to really kick it up a notch.’”
With esports being a coed sport, it can often create important conversations. Not only do women experience discrimination in video games, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community also struggle in the industry. According to Tucker, it’s important for coaches to be aware of discrimination and be prepared to act if needed.
“When I got the job, discrimination was something I was really prepared for, just because as a video gamer, myself, I’ve experienced it a lot,” Tucker said. “You know you just hop into games, and sometimes people are just really toxic and discriminatory on a lot of different levels, whether it’s gender, race, sexuality or anything like that. It was something I really prepared for because I didn’t want it to happen.”
The hidden side of esports is the production side which comes with camera operation, shoutcasting and color commentating. According to Hinds, getting students involved in the production process can help not only production awareness with students but also with friends and families.
“I absolutely want to do more because I want the production side of our playing to look better and because the number one way that people watch it is on Twitch and YouTube. I want that to be how people get introduced to our program, and can see it from a broader light,” Hinds said. “More than just our gameplay, right now they see our gameplay, they hear our commentators and a couple different things. But I would like them to have cameras that are set up to see the whole room and do more interviews with students.”
At the end of the day esports in colleges are about bringing students together and giving them opportunities that they may not have had before.
“There’s lots and lots of students who play video games, there’s lots of different games to compete in,” Tucker said. “So colleges have a really good opportunity, high schools as well, just to incorporate a lot of students who normally wouldn’t compete in anything else. Students may not be immersed in athletics or performing arts or any other extracurriculars, but they are interested in video games.”