After training and practicing for three weeks, members of Calhoun Community College’s newest team put on black-and-blue uniform shirts Tuesday and, with focused demeanors and game controllers, they started warming up for their first preseason contest.
Welcome to the world of esports competition.
Calhoun unveiled the gaming competition studio for the newest of its four sports teams Tuesday morning in Noble Russell Hall on the college’s Decatur campus.
“It’s really nice to be able to come together and do something like this,” said Allison Smith, an esports team member from Decatur. “I know a lot of people who try to game together, but a lot of it’s been hard because of the pandemic. So having a place where we can all get together and actually talk is really nice.”
Calhoun Interim President Joe Burke said the prevalence of advanced technologies in the area made an esports team a good fit at Calhoun.
“We noticed in some of the college publications that there’s like 300 colleges, universities across the country with esports, and being here in this technology rich region, we need to have an esports team,” Burke said.
The esports team, which consists of four coaches and seven athletes, will compete against players from other junior colleges nationwide.
Hours before their preseason competition, esports team members played each other in “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” in their gaming studio. On one end of the room, two players faced off in a round of “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” each watching their own large flat-screen monitor, while in the center of the studio, students played “Rocket League” on desktop monitors.
In addition to four flat-screen monitors, the studio has six desktop monitors, six high-powered gaming computers and six gaming chairs.
Smith said her favorite of the two games is “Rocket League,” which she described as “car soccer.” “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a fighting game which was released in its original version in 1999.
The National Junior College Athletic Association’s regular esports gaming season is scheduled to begin in October. Calhoun, which has a second gaming studio at its Huntsville campus, will compete on Tuesdays. Its first tournament will be Oct. 6 on both campuses.
Calhoun leaders first looked into bringing an esports team to Calhoun about 10 months ago, according to esports coach Casey Knighten.
“The process of dealing with COVID really threw a wrench in everything. We’re just happy it’s finally here. It went from just a thought 10 months ago from Dr. Burke himself,” Knighten said. “From research, to being in it from the beginning all the way to seeing a finished product is really great.”
Knighten said the pandemic has increased interest in competitive gaming.
“Our preseason practice match tonight, we’re playing a team from Washington state (Grays Harbor College),” Knighten said of the team’s Tuesday evening game. “I think this is something that’s become more prevalent because you have this distance (between players). You can sit here in Alabama and play somebody in California. You don’t have to be face-to-face to be able to play.”
Competitors were spaced out throughout the studio as they prepared for their first preseason game, and Knighten said temperature checks, symptom surveys and plenty of hand sanitizer are all part of their precautions against COVID-19.
Knighten said esports athletes will be held to the same academic standards as players on Calhoun’s existing softball, baseball and golf teams, including GPA requirements and required study hours.
Burke said he expects the addition of an esports team to bring new students to Calhoun.
“We expect that we’ll have students that will come to Calhoun just to participate in esports, we’ve heard of that happening already. (We’re) really glad to get it going,” he said.