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HomeSportsDal student pioneer in e-sports world

Dal student pioneer in e-sports world

By Joel TichinoffSports Editor

How many people do you know who have never played a video game? How many student houses are without some kind of gaming system, be it an ancient N64 for MarioKart and GoldenEye, or the latest Guitar Hero? For every group of students out kicking a soccer ball around on Wickwire field, how many more are at a friend’s place playing Halo?
Gaming has arrived.
From Korea to Finland to Canada, video games have eclipsed athletics as a favourite activity for young adults. As a form of entertainment, video games have graduated from the arcades to overtaking even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in terms of profit. The wildly popular Twilight Saga movie, the record-holder for opening-day box-office sales, made just under $74 million in the first 24 hours of its release. Halo 3 took in sales of over $170 million in the US alone during its first day on the shelves. There is now also a Halo film in the works.
On top of popularity and profitability, video games represent the vanguard of electronics and computer science technology; Xbox’s controller-free Natal system, slated for release in 2010, promises to revolutionize how humans interact with all categories of technology, not just video games.
With this in mind, third-year management student Evan Oberman founded Varsity Gameco Inc. in 2007, and as a freshman launched the Varsity e-Sports League (VeSL) project based at Dalhousie. As of 2010, the VeSL is comprised of 29 affiliated gaming societies at universities across North America.
“I’d love to see it considered on par with a varsity sport,” Oberman says of inter-university e-Sports and his vision isn’t far from becoming a reality. The Dal e-Sports Society, of which Oberman is President, boasts roughly 50 members, while the DeSS counterpart at the University of Toronto, the UofT e-Sports Club, has 500 to 600 members.
While Oberman works toward developing the e-sport society at the varsity level, competitive gaming has grown enormously in the form of international competition. The 10th World Cyber Games is to be held in Los Angeles next fall. The last WCGs saw 600 participants from 65 countries assemble in Chengdu, China to decide which nation would reign supreme from Counter-Strike to Guitar Hero. (Poland defeated Sweden in the gold medal round of Counter-Strike, while Brazil took home gold in Guitar Hero. Canada is ranked among the global Team-Fortress superpowers.) While still somewhat off the pop-culture radar in the West, professional e-sports have exploded in South Korea where notable games of Starcraft and Warcraft III are broadcast on national television.
“Pro-gamers walking down the street in Seoul are mobbed like rock-stars,” Oberman notes before pointing out the marketing opportunities for Dalhousie in the vast on-line gaming community.
Arguably Dal spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year supporting athletics teams that, among many other valuable benefits, help spread the Dalhousie name abroad. An e-Sports program would cost a fraction to operate while gaining recognition in a vast tech-savvy community on the cutting-edge of electronics and programming. For a university pushing its reputation for innovation, Oberman’s project does seem to fit nicely with the school’s marketing interests.
On balance, the VeSL project isn’t as far-fetched as it would appear, chances are a Dalhousie e-Sports team is a much more realistic proposition than, say, a Dalhousie football team. E-sports represent just another point at which the boundaries between sports and technology are rapidly disappearing. As for the argument that sports require a level of physical exertion to truly qualify as athletics, anyone who has played with a Wii has experienced the electronics industry’s first timid steps into the realm of fitness and human performance. Wii Fit, which incorporates yoga, strength training and aerobics in game play, stands as the second-highest-selling video game of all time.
For now the Dal e-Sports Society remains an informal student group intended to bring together Dal students with a shared passion for video games. Oberman and the DeSS have collaborated on the highly successful Frag For Cancer gamer fundraising events held annually at Dal to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society. The fourth FFC event, held in 2009 at the Dal Student Union Building, drew 200 people to the MacInnes Room and raised roughly $5,000 for cancer research.
“It’s a community more than anything,” says Oberman of the group. “Whether you’re into casual gaming or hard-core competitive gaming, above all it’s about getting together with friends and having fun.”


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