Inside a stark, brick wall room at Garden City Community College, four students have come together this semester to bring forward a new competitive medium at the college: video games.
On Oct. 4, GCCC introduced its first National Junior College Athletic Association esports team, a designation added to the athletic oversight organization just this fall. Like traditional sports, esports gives student-athletes a chance to compete at NJCAA-sanctioned matches, in GCCC’s case for games like football-simulator “Madden NFL” and Nintendo-based brawler “Super Smash Bros.”
The experience is similar to football or basketball, said team manager and GCCC staff member David Larsen. In those sports, like esports, two teams compete one-on-one, he said. But in video games, the competition is “more of a mental game,” built on an understanding of strategy or game mechanics, he said. It takes skill, but it could also be a chance to bring students together.
“I think it would be good for students that don’t play sports, who might just sit in their room and play video games, and don’t really get interaction outside of that,” Larsen said. “It gives them an opportunity to become a part of something bigger and get them involved in the college.”
Three of GCCC’s four esports players compete together as a “Super Smash Bros.” team and the fourth competes on a one-man “Madden” team. The competitive matches are set up as mini-tournaments. For “Super Smash Bros.,” matches are eight-minute, three-stock matches where the best out of three wins.
To date, “Smash Bros.” player Davon Beach-Mayes stands undefeated in competition with a 3-0 score and hopes to make it to the league’s championships in late November.
“I feel good,” he said. “With every game there’s just a very small panic, and that’s because you’ve never gone up against these people.”
Preparing for a “Smash Bros.” game takes specific strategies, both similar and wholly separate from those used for sports like football, Beach-Mayes said. In football, players can review film of other teams to study, and later predict, their tricks and tendencies, he said.
“In ‘Smash,’ it’s not that easy.” Beach-Mayes said. “Anything can happen.”
A player can do well in their first game and then suddenly be up against a character that goes directly against their character's main advantages — fire versus water. It’s an offensive strategy called “county-picking,” Beach-Mayes said.
Larsen said he was excited for his team. Player Kris Henderson has competed nationally with online battle royale “Fortnite” and his teammate, Darwyn Maxwell, is “very knowledgeable and very confident” with the “Smash Bros.” gameplay, he said. For now, he expects players to treat the team “like it’s an actual sport,” with a dedication to practice and studying both film and match-ups and tier lists — the esports playbook.
“My expectations from them is to be involved, to be serious about it,” Larsen said.
And ideally, Larsen hopes to see the program grow. While the group is currently part of the NJCAA, the team is looking to join Collegiate Starleague, the world’s first collegiate gaming organization, the Tespa Rocket League and The National Association of Collegiate Esports. And Larsen wants to encourage more students to join the fledgling team at GCCC.
“I want to get the community involved, maybe host some local tournaments to help get the knowledge out to the high school students so they can see what we have to offer, if they’re interested, and let people get involved and see what it’s about,” Larsen said.