By Fabrice Samedy
With the suspension of traditional sports due to the ongoing pandemic, esports have seen a rise in popularity and allowed a different audience to participate in varsity competition through leagues like Ontario Post-Secondary Esports (OPSE).
For the uninitiated, esports features a wide range of “electronic sports” – that often means organized, multiplayer video game competitions. Already established with a large professional circuit worldwide, esports interest grew even further during public health lockdowns.
National sports organizations have jumped on the bandwagon – Cycling Canada chose a number of its top international riders to compete in global virtual races on stationary bikes, and Basketball Canada selected an esports national team to compete in FIBA-organized NBA 2K events.
Esports have been a hit for university/college students as well, with varsity athletics departments regularly providing social media updates on their teams’ game scores from OPSE league action.
OPSE is an Ontario-based league that sees universities compete in weekly matches in four different games – Overwatch, Rocket League, Hearthstone and League of Legends – in hopes of winning some cash prizes at the end of the seasons.
Carleton University created a $25,000 arena where Ravens players are able to practice their respective game and compete safely. Sheryl Hunt, the Ravens’ marketing and brand development director, says the department has been pleased with the result of this investment and that the feedback from the community has been promising.
The man behind the mic
As the season goes on, many players have represented their school on the battlefield, but Adam Choles has discovered another layer to the esports world where he’s excelled in his own way.
Choles – better known under his online alias “Half Asian Dad” – is a third-year psychology student at the University of Ottawa, and for the past year has been involved with uOttawa’s League of Legends team as a caster (or game commentator).
A League of Legends player since high school, Choles’ journey as a commentator started this year when he was invited to shoutcast uOttawa’s first game of the season on their Twitch stream.
With the help of Yucy Jia, former team manager, he’s been able to develop his image. Choles says the main reason he decided to take on this challenge was because he wanted to support a team without having to play directly.
For the young and aspiring caster, the experience has been beneficial because of all the recognition he received, and the self-confidence his work as a commentator has helped him develop.
“Being someone who people can look up to in a way, it’s really exciting and humbling,” signals Choles, who’s received opportunities to work with U.S. amateur leagues such as Upsurge Esport, and to collaborate with former LoL pro Mike Yeung.
“It’s such an honour to be able to make esports as exciting as possible for people who are looking for something competitive to watch during this pandemic,” he adds.
Esports and casting also helped Choles to cope with the stress of life, school and the world in general, he highlights.
Choles notes that online gaming isn’t usually thought of as a major source of building school camaraderie, but it’s been different with the pandemic shutting down traditional sports down.
For Choles, being on broadcasts every single week has made him a sort of representative for the university and it helped him develop a sense of pride for his institution.
“I think that now I can proudly say that I am a Gee-Gee and I will carry that for a long time, regardless of where my career may take me,” states the 20-year-old.
Aside from the bad reputation it may have in the eyes of older generations, Choles has seen how inclusive esports can be – it’s open to everyone, and can allow people with disabilities who may have difficulty participating in sports to participate in competition equally, for example.
“I think that because it is online and we as a society are much more tech-savvy now, it makes esports very accessible to everyone who is interested,” Choles indicates.
He also explains that League of Legends is pretty easy to pick up and doesn’t require a supercomputer to play, and if LoL isn’t your cup of tea, there are other ways to be involved in the fandom.
As its inaugural season comes to a close, OPSE commissioner James Fitzgerald says that this past year has been a learning experience and that the overall response from the community has been “extremely positive.”
“We are looking forward to becoming better and better,” Fitzgerald underlines.