New College Competitors: As esports gains popularity, SUNY Morrisville jumps on board

Members of the SUNY Morrisville esports team. From left: Evan Schaaf, co-advisor Jamal Verity, Spencer Herring, co-advisor Angela Rhodes and Hunter Snyder.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic caused the physical world to remain distanced, the virtual world of esports has emerged to connect people like never before.

SUNY Morrisville students are among those taking a hold of esports (electronic sports), an organized sports competition featuring multiplayer video games where gamers from around the world can compete individually or as a team. They also can tune in as spectators.

“This summer, I played Rocket League with my now-roommate pretty much every day and we got to know each other and become close, even before living together,” said Ryan Creenan, a business administration student who is one of the many members of SUNY Morrisville’s growing esports team.

In Rocket League, Creenan, who goes by the gaming handle toastergoalie, is referring to a competitive video game described as a “high-powered hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem.”

It is one of the many games that has become popular within esports, which has exploded this year after rising in popularity during the past decade. According to the latest market report from gaming analytics provider Newzoo, esports is expected to grow to $1.1 billion globally in 2020, a year-on-year bump of +15.7% from 2019.

For Creenan, esports became a safe alternative to interact with others. “It was the only way my friends and I could hang out and get together,” he said.

Members of the SUNY Morrisville esports team gather in a conference room located in Charlton Hall, the future home of the college’s esports arena.

Esports at Morrisville moved from novice to pro level in the fall of 2019, when Spencer Herring (F1SH), an information technology: network administration student, became president of the Morrisville Competitive Gaming (MCG) club. Herring’s first order of business was to help elevate esports from casual interest to serious competition.

“When I first joined (MCG), it was just a club where kids would come and play games, so I started a Smash team and have tried to blossom it into a legit esports program,” said Herring, a passionate Nintendo Super Smash Brothers Ultimate player.

Herring pushed to create a large team of players on campus and reached out to peers from other institutions to gauge their interest in competing. His vision meshed with that of MCG co-advisors Angela Rhodes and Jamal Verity, both avid and longtime gamers who continuously advocated for esports through various avenues on campus.

Working together, the group successfully organized and hosted the club’s first esports scrimmage last fall, squaring off against Bryant & Stratton College (Buffalo, New York).

SUNY Morrisville has seen the value in esports and gaming, recently announcing a minor in game programming open to students in any bachelor’s degree program. Plans also are underway to renovate a Charlton Hall lecture hall into a multifunctional space to be used as both a classroom and an esports arena by next fall.

“Our challenge now is for our esports program to be fully recognized by administration as an official team,” said Verity, assistant professor in the Computer Information Technology (CIT) Department.

The esports team advanced a level closer to that goal last spring, being awarded grant money to purchase official team jerseys and Alienware pro gaming equipment.

“When we unboxed those jerseys at the beginning of the spring semester, the students’ faces just lit up and they were definitely excited to be recognized as college competitors,” said Rhodes, the college’s Systems & Electronic Resources librarian.

But shortly thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges everywhere to abruptly transition to remote learning and brought live, in-person sports at all levels to a sudden halt.

As SUNY System Administration began developing ways to bolster its response to the pandemic, it leaned on the virtual capabilities of esports. In April they announced a three-week, systemwide SUNY Chancellor Esports Challenge to help support student emergency funds.

“All of the sudden, the whole esports scene erupted and some campuses, including ours, that didn’t appear to outwardly have much of an esports scene came out of the woodwork to compete on a SUNY-wide scale,” Rhodes said. “It’s never been done before, and now there’s this whole community that I’m in communication with.”

The Challenge attracted 46 colleges and nearly 500 student participants. Following its success, SUNY partnered with the tournament formation and management platform, LeagueSpot, to organize two more events: a Summer Esports Tournament held throughout August and a six-week SUNY Fall Esports League during the fall semester.

“When the pandemic came about, it caused us to pause our scrimmages,” Verity said. “Then the SUNY Esports League allowed us to enroll our student-athletes into competition again, and it was a blessing.”

Morrisville’s gamers were stoked to hear the news.

“A tournament against all other SUNY colleges? I absolutely love it,” said Hunter Snyder (ItsOffTheWall), a computer information systems major.

All of the sudden, the whole esports scene erupted and some campuses, including ours, that didn’t appear to outwardly have much of an esports scene came out of the woodwork to compete on a SUNY-wide scale.

Angela Rhodes

Snyder served as captain for the Fortnight 2v2 team competition during the fall league, pairing with automotive technology major Evan Schaaf (Jerjoeev3) and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs.

“This was a way for people to connect and play together and have fun,” Snyder said.

Snyder’s team members share those sentiments, especially this year, as esports tournaments have offered much more than just friendly competition.

“It’s a refresher,” said Ricardo Gibson (Shiruya/SageLeader), who competed in Smite 1v1 during the fall league. “It got people out of their depressed state from this pandemic and helps put people in good spirits. They are not able to come together face-to-face, but they are able to communicate.”

Gibson, an information technology: application software development major and vice president of MCG, has formed bonds during this time of isolation.

“During this competition, I’m making a lot of friends. Even opponents are now ‘frenemies,’” he said.

“I had a lot of fun and met a lot of nice people,” added Herring, who competed in all three SUNY tournaments.

The team hopes to see esports continue its rapid progress at both the college and system level.

“A hope of mine, and Jamal’s, is that eventually this will evolve from a league into an NCAA-level athletics competition — Something where we can recruit, give out scholarships and elevate our players,” Rhodes said.

Ricardo Gibson, an information technology: application software development major, gaming on a PC.

Esports Viewership

Did you know that gamers enjoy watching esports just as much as competing in them? As more viewers tune in to watch their favorite games being played by some of the best gamers in the world, the global audience for esports is estimated to reach nearly 500 million in 2020, according to Newzoo. SUNY System Administration and SUNY Morrisville have both joined this phenomenon, live streaming all the esports tournament action through their respective channels on Twitch, one of the world’s leading streaming platforms for gamers. Check out the MCG Twitch Channel (www.twitch.tv/morrisville_gamers) and the SUNY Esports Channel (www.twitch.tv/sunyesports) to view recent broadcasts.

Jamal Verity (left) and Angela Rhodes, avid gamers and co-advisors for the Morrisville Competitive Gaming (MCG) student club, pose for a photo while sporting their esports team jerseys.

Meet the Advisors

Angela Rhodes and Jamal Verity have served as co-advisors for the Morrisville Competitive Gaming (MCG) student club since it was formed in 2015. They had established reputations as gamers on campus, and it was natural that they would be the ones first approached for the role.

Angela Rhodes

Gamer Handle: Angemaler

Currently Playing: Final Fantasy XIV on PC

I have been gaming…: all of my conscious life, and because of my age, was lucky to ride the gaming wave just as it was forming. My family had an Atari 2600 when I was quite young, and then my dad brought home the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) for Christmas in 1989. I was eight years old and we were living in Germany at the time, so that system became a very big part of our family entertainment. My love of gaming was something that I never “outgrew” as I became an adult, and my gaming passion is all thanks to my dad.

I love everything about gaming because it presents a story in which I can live and poses a challenge for me, either through the skill of jumping a platform, figuring out a puzzle, or satisfying the urge to collect all the things. My favorite games of all time usually have all these qualities.

Jamal Verity

Gamer Handles: Hotraad / Ninjamaal

Currently Playing: Overwatch; World of Warcraft: Classic; World of Warcraft: Shadowlands; Valorant; Among Us; Fall Guys; World War Z. I’m mostly a PC gamer and build my own rigs.

I have been gaming…: since 1979. I have always been a gamer. My first experience with video gaming was with an Intellivision game console, where I spent the whole summer at my friend’s house playing the baseball game. I also remember my mother sending me to the supermarket with $20 and allowing me to keep the change, which I would use to play the arcade games that were inside the store. I would work all week so that I would have money to spend many weekend nights hanging out with my friends at the local arcades until close.

I guess the competitive nature started brewing in me when I would try to top the high scores on each machine. And the better you were, the less coins you spent. I also began participating in fighting-game competitions and, once I enrolled in college, also started a Tecmo Bowl league where I organized football game competitions with  folks in my dormitory.

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