ESports Teams Flourish in Florence


Mary-Stella Mangina, Sports Editor

With ESports steadily growing in popularity across the United States, related tournaments and events are taking place all over the nation, giving gamers chances to exercise their skills in outmaneuvering their virtual opponents. Short for electronic sports, “ESports” refers to organized games and competitions that are accessed cybernetically. Usually, contests such as these encompass high-stakes multiplayer video games. They are typically associated with “League of Legends”, “Valorant”, “Madden”, “Overwatch”, “Splatoon”, “Fortnite” and “Super Smash Bros.”. We inhabit a face-paced world, where unfalteringly quick internet speed allows for previously unforeseen professions like those of the social media influencer and the professional gamer to thrive. In a world such as this, it only makes sense that individuals should want to put their online gaming-based expertise to the test. Incidentally, in 2020, the Southwestern Athletic Conference established its own ESports league. It continues today in its endeavors to demystify the potential job market posed by the ESports industry.

An increasingly large number of high schools and colleges alike are incorporating ESports into their orbits of recreational pastimes. These schools have come to realize that ESports leagues materialize in the lives of their students the possibility of being  involved in productive and engaging communities that operate outside the realm of purely physical sports.

The Parks and Recreation Department in Hoover, Alabama, has opted to introduce into its abundance of avocations an ESports Recreational Youth League. Similarly, here in town, at Florence High School, students are invited to join the Falcon ESports Team, which is coached by faculty members Jeffrey Reynolds and Justin Pierce.

There exists ample medical evidence attesting to the pros of playing ESports as a young adult. For example, as reported by sports medicine authority Dr. Nithin Natwa, who conducts his studies at Henry Ford Health System, a well-versed gaming enthusiast makes up to 400 minuscule but meticulously-calculated moves per minute. Furthermore, the journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” holds that video games yield long-term cognitive rewards in the minds of their enthusiasts. Children who partially devote their time to competitive gaming are said to have a decreased risk of dementia later in life, as opposed to t heir corporeal-focused counterparts. It has become customary to link stunted attention spans in adolescents with computer games, when in actuality, the relationship between the two is frequently inverse, rather than direct. Electronic gaming calls for a sizable supply of concentration, as it comprises a vast volume of moving parts.

As reported by the “Associated Press”, over 170 schools teach students who are members of the National Association of Collegiate ESports, or NACE. Established in 2016, NACE has granted its automated athletes, in total, 16 million dollars in ESports related scholarships and financial aid. Also, it has an annual national convention and boasts its own private Discord server. Through it, recognition has been amassed from the masses for the intricacies of online gaming, particularly at universities in the States. At the University of North Alabama,
ESports are geared towards, as student and dedicated ESports team leader Brian Vu conjectures, “getting more people involved with gaming in a setting where they can be in the company of others”.  Indeed, it is contested by few that ESports encourage teamwork amongst competing players in its most traditional sense.

Now, UNA is in the process of streaming an “Overwatch” championship for high schoolers. “We’re partnered with a lot of Shoals high schools,” remarks Jaiden Garner, vice president of North Alabama Gaming’s on campus ESports chapter, “like Brooks, Lauderdale County, and Lexington.”

Said competition is set to last until the end of February, the finals for which will be held physically, in a computer lab found in the basement of Covington Hall. On top of this play-off, UNA will be hosting a statewide collegiat etournament for the first time following its team’s 2019 formation. According to Garner, said tournament will consist of three games: “Valorant”, “League of Legends”, and “Rocket League”. Soon, he and his teammates will have the opportunity to travel to the ePLEX in Birmingham, a state-of-the-art ESports and virtual reality gaming arena. There, the collegiate title matches will come to fruition on April 16. While its future competitors are excited about
their impending scrimmages, they are somewhat disappointed in their once-ina-blue-moon nature. In-person matches are rarely arranged in Florence, for the town is devoid of large-scale gaming facilities. “We would love to one day host a face-to-face tournament that’s just one or two days long, but as of right now, that’s sadly not in the cards,” says Garner.

What-is-more, in relation to the continuously abounding strains of the coronavirus in not only Alabama but also the nation as a whole, the feasibility of ESports bouts is indeterminate. Along with ESports officials all over the country, Garner laments the newly implemented regulations called for by the virus. “As for our facility, we’ve had to put a lot of COVID restrictions and guidelines on it,” he says, explaining the sanitizing rituals performed on his team’s Covington Hall-located computers and keyboards. One would
be reasonable to assume that the pandemic would not have significantly impacted the ESports community, as video game players always have the option to practice remotely. But despite their availability from faraway places, ESports are frequently enjoyed by their most zealous players in unsequestered environments. Fortunately, when they are fielding obstacles, be they therapeutical or technical, ESports teams have been known to remain flexible and focused.