Modern take on virtual world leads to opportunities


Cam Fuller

[vc_row full_height=”yes” columns_placement=”top” content_placement=”top” parallax=”content-moving-fade” parallax_image=”293173″][vc_column css=”.vc_custom_1491593194717{background-color: rgba(255,255,255,0.7) !important;*background-color: rgb(255,255,255) !important;}”][vc_column_text][heading size=”18″ margin=”0″]E-Sports in Columbia[/heading]
To someone unfamiliar in computer gaming, electronic sports, or eSports, probably don’t look like a varsity athletic program. The games don’t take physical skills but rather mental ones that make it a sport more akin to chess rather than football or basketball.
One of the fastest growing eSports, League of Legends or “LoL”, is an online PC game release in 2009 that has 70 million players and over 200 colleges that compete in the “LoL” North American Championship. One of those schools is Columbia College, which, as of last year, is one of the few school funded ESports programs in the world.
Josh Eysler, the school’s communications director, says the push for funding and scholarships for “LoL” came as a response to a growing number of students who wanted the ability to compete outside of the traditional realm of athletics.
“At Columbia College we are always looking for new ways to help our students feel more welcome and apart of the community so League of Legends seemed like a perfect fit for our campus,” Eysler said. “We already knew there were a number of students who were interested in creating a program so once we got them involved the process of creating the team went by quickly.”
Esports are a relatively new idea, with the first professional leagues being set up around the game Starcraft at the turn of the century. Science teacher Kyle Reznicek still plays Starcraft daily and says the growing possibilities surrounding eSports are great for student involvement in any type of school.
“I really wish that they had things like this when I was a kid because I would have absolutely loved to play video games and gotten a scholarship for it,” Reznicek said. “The fact that it’s even an option now is really a testament to how much video games have grown, but really it’s just great the universities are looking to broaden their horizons and think of current and future students.”
The new opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed by local students, as Junior Seth Covert, has considered playing “LoL” at Columbia College. Though he knows the intense training and long hours would be tough, he says the idea of playing video at any competitive level would be a dream come true.
“Paying for college is tough so having that as an option is incredible,” Covert said. “Being able to play video games to me is just a really big bonus, especially when you consider that they play against some of the best in the world.”
Moving forward, Eysler and Columbia College hope the “LoL” team is able to find success so that they can continue growing eSports at the school. Eysler says that if the current team works out well for all parties, then the hope is to bring more eSports at some point.
“We recognize that it may be one of the fastest growing competitions in the world, so being a part of that is extremely exciting,” Eysler said. “Our current team is doing very well this season, so we hope to continue supporting them and also create new teams in the coming years.”
[heading size=”18″ margin=”0″]The evolution of video games[/heading]
With current generations raised on the lightning-fast processing speeds and crystal clear graphics of Xboxes and PlayStations (and with the tide of virtual reality-based video games fast approaching), it’s easy to forget that just 50 years ago, digital gaming existed in only a few laboratories around the world. They were the experiments of well-known scientists and mathematicians trying to create easier ways to do simple tasks, not create a new form of entertainment.
Today, video games are an entrenched part of our culture. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 59 percent of Americans played video games in 2015. That same year, consumers spent $22.5 billion on video games, the association reported.
With that kind of money on the line, the electronic games industry has grown exponentially over the past decade. More and more companies and developers have gotten into the business as they hope to create the next hit, but as a result the market has seen a sudden flood of mediocre titles. Greg Miller, 2015 trending gamer of the year and co-founder of Kinda Funny Games, says the market is growing at a much faster pace than anyone expected and sees no signs of slowing, but releasing lackluster titles doesn’t help.
“If you’re a good video game developer, then things couldn’t be better for you right now,” Miller said. “Where you start seeing problems is the number of studios who released terrible games and try to make a quick buck. As a result they fall apart quickly, but you also see good studios fall apart quickly if they release one bad game. You have to be really on top of it to stay in the industry because it’s so competitive.”
Overall quality is one place that has also grown at a rapid pace, as video games now have graphics, art and storytelling that rivals Hollywood. Growing up in the early ‘90s, social studies teacher Scott Wittenborn says he can barely believe how far electronic entertainment has come.
“Some of the graphics in these games [are] absolutely unbelievable,” Wittenborn said. “I’ve been playing Fifa a long time, and to that game go from being really blocky and pixelated to looking almost like real soccer is really special.”
It’s this refined standard that has brought video games from being a nerdy, niche medium to the socially acceptable, global success it is today. For sophomore Justin White, video games today are not known as geeky, but rather fun from a wide range of genres.
“There are so many different kinds of games today that really anyone can get into them,” White said. “You can play something like Call of Duty with your friends or you can play Super Smash Bros. with your family and both are a great time. That’s why I think videogames are the best form of entertainment.”
Though video games have come a long way, and the industry continues to expand, there is still a long ways for it to grow. Miller says the hope is that the success continues for all types of games so that the landscape can be as diverse and interesting as possible.
“For me as a games enthusiast, all I want is for everyone to continue their success,” Miller said. “I know there are some people that just want one type of game the rest of their life, but if that mentality continues then there may not be a lot more growth. We’re at a point where gamers need to go out and try new stuff. If that happens, then everyone will benefit.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]