More than just a game
The world of Esports is more than just playing video games for coach James Jones.
Jones tries to teach life lessons to his 25 members on his teams, up from the 15 players in his first season. He said his recruiting is based on visiting schools and making sure those players know he cares about them.
“Currently, I am old-schooled and like to go to high schools personally and talk to students myself,” Jones said. “I require in-house practices and don’t allow them to play or practice from home. You lose that bonding experience, and I am showing them that I care about them and am really hitting the high schools up. I am helping high schools build Esports programs because it is growing quickly right now.”
Esports Valorant team captain Tayler Allen said Jones is teaching him life lessons during every practice, match and outside of the classroom and lab practice time.
“I think a lot of life lessons come from losing,” Allen said. “We are playing a game for two and a half to three hours and when we lose a game, we are so beat up about it and we learn how to get better and improve. Another life lesson that we learn is how to talk to people and socialize. Esports appeals to that group of kids, and they are not in the same area, and it deals with the introverted people and gets them out there because now you have to play with a team and work together.”
When talks of forming a team came up, Jones said it was a three-year process to develop the plan and get the approval in place.
“I was in Student Life at the time, and we had a gaming center in there. It had consoles with TVs and something recreationally to do and we always had kids in there,” Jones said. “They were rotating through, and I grew up a gamer, so I saw the competitive side rising quickly. I knew about the pro scene and saw it pop up in colleges here and there and around the U.S. This is something we could do here. My initial thought is not everyone is athletically gifted, while I do have some former athletes on the team. Not everyone is gifted as they are, and they deserve a spot to shine and to represent a college in there one way as well.”
Jones said when he brought it up to Trinity Valley Community College President Jerry King and the board, he mentioned what the value of Esports would do for the institution.
“Most people don’t understand what we do but the value of what Esports brings. They see that side of things where I am like these kids deserve the spotlight and they are super supportive of that,” he said. “Any way to have inclusion and bring in students that are really good at gaming can come here and might as well get a degree while on a team.”
The world of competitive gaming has similarities to your more traditional sports even if the practices are different from the outdoor sports.
Gamers must be able to handle the mental aspect of a match as Jones said some games can last up to three hours at a time, depending on the game they are playing.
“We all grew up with a baseball bat, soccer ball, football and we all considered those toys,” Jones said. “Video games are the same thing and they eventually turned into sports for a lot of us. I see Esports as the same thing and it is now a competitive scene where we can show our skills. It takes about as much skill as any other sport out there to be honest.”
From making sure your mind is sharp to working on hand-to-eye coordination, the role of an Esports coach is to make sure the students are focused and get enough sleep prior to game day.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you have to play it and scout and make sure your fundamentals are sound. You have to make sure that you are communicating with your teammates,” Jones said. “It is everything that a traditional sport is in my opinion. While it may not be as physically taxing on them, it gets intense in here. After some games, they leave tired because it can be a stamina game. Some of these games can last three hours if it is a close matchup. Since it doesn’t take as much of a toll physically, mentally it takes a lot bigger toll on them than your traditional sports.”
The matches are streamed through Twitch and Jones said he would love to see more people check out the platform.
Twitch is an American video live streaming service that focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of Esports competitions, in addition to offering music broadcasts, creative content and “in real life” streams.
“We stream on Twitch, and it has helped us get eyes nationally and worldwide. We are gaining more and more viewers every time we stream,” Jones said. “I can teach strategy and feature students as well and it shows what I thought of East Texas. I know there are some gold nuggets out here of gamers, and they don’t have the platform or the ability to be seen.”
The list of games for the fall semester is Rocket League, Valorant, Rainbow 6 Siege, Smash Brothers and Overwatch 2. The season begins Oct. 3 as the Super Smash Brothers Ultimate and Overwatch 2 teams will compete in the Open season.
“Overwatch has now gone from six-man to five-man, and they have to ever adapt to their game. It is never the same season to season, and it is definitely mentally taxing on them,” Jones said.
“Other games are very tactical and outsmarting your opponent. It is either forcing them out or forcing an angle that you wouldn’t normally see. In Overwatch, it is about team dynamics, and you must move as a unit. If you are in trouble, everyone has to rotate to the other side of the map at the same time.”
He said the Rocket League game is another one where you must understand math and psychics while playing the game.
“Rocket League is basically car soccer, but it is huge on psychics and reading your opponent,” Jones said. “It is knowing if they hit the ball here, I need to be at this point over here by the time it travels that far.”
He said plenty of sleep and working on your dexterity are huge in the world of competitive gaming.
“You have to have great hand to eye coordination and your reaction time is huge,” Jones said. “It is proven that I can’t play at the level that these guys do because once you hit 30-years old, your reaction time plummets unless you are doing this every single day of your life.”
Allen said when it comes to being a player on the team, you must make the best move in the quickest amount of time possible.
“90-percent of the time you are not looking at the mouse or the keyboard, so you need to know where everything is,” Allen said. “You need to know where to place your hands, what key to use at what time and everything needs to be borderline perfect for you to get a play. For Esports, you have a play every single round and it needs to be perfect. I wouldn’t argue that it is harder physically, since the biggest issue is with carpal tunnel.”
Allen said when it comes to semi-pro tennis and playing Esports, the latter is challenging for him. Allen played tennis prior to him joining the Cardinal Esports program.
“It is a little more difficult so when I played tennis, you have the physical aspect which is obviously harder. You can fracture something, break a bone or pull a muscle playing those sports,” Jones said. “When you dwell into the side of Esports, you tend to get into the mental side of things more than a physical sport. When you are sitting in a chair where one match takes one hour and you have three-out-of-five, it tends to get a little more taxing than a quick hour for a pro set for tennis.”
Jones hopes the future of the Esports program grows and his teams can be one of the tops in the country. Following the success of his first year, the Esports program has teams going through qualifying matches in hopes of returning to the playoffs this season.