In 2020, everyone spent more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many gamers, that meant more time online.
This would surely mean an uptick in popularity within already growing e-sports communities and events, right? Unfortunately, according to members of the Dalhousie Gaming and Esports Society (DeSS), that assumption is wrong.
Yes, a big portion of e-sports can be played online and from a distance. But DeSS president Sahib Dhillon said the online and gaming portion is only half of what e-sports is about.
“It’s surprising e-sports got hit so hard by a virus that affects you when you’re in person. Although a lot of it is online, the time you spend with other people and that time lost this year is significant,” he said.
In a regular year, the society attracts roughly 60 to 70 gamers across several games. This year, Dhillon said the number is closer to 25 people over four games. In-person events between local teams are highlights for DeSS players each year, the lack of which is affecting current participation.
“It’s a bit sad, since we’ve had a steady build-up [in interest] over the last few years. Then COVID hit and everything kind of died,” Dhillon said. “But a good way to look at it is a lot of our players will always be looking to play games, so we’re never starved of interest.”
In-person events include tournaments against a few other local schools and clubs. The University of New Brunswick and Acadia University also have e-sports societies and sometimes meet with Dal for competitions.
The DeSS has held large events at Dal’s Student Union Building, whether it’s with local teams in town or if it’s just Dal together in one room playing others from distance.
Evan Mostovac is in his second year with the DeSS, representing Dal in games like Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six. He said the Rainbow Six squad has kept busy with online events, but it’s not the same not being alongside teammates.
“Playing on a local area network is a bit better I find,” he said. Local area networks allow nearby devices to share a common wireless link, as opposed to an online server. “It makes for more of a fun atmosphere. You would be in the same room as your opponent, so people get really animated and amped-up when they’re playing. If someone makes a really good play, you can see the athletes screaming or banging on the desk. They’re having a good time.”
Even without the interest the DeSS had seen in past years, they’ve taken part in online tournaments for certain games, even against some American teams.
With Dal Athletics looking to keep some intramural action going without the opportunity to run many other sports, they reached out to DeSS for help organizing some intramural e-sports competitions throughout the school year. The society’s focus for intramurals has involved organizing League of Legends competitions.
Dhillon is hoping efforts like this, and growing DeSS’s brand, will once again stimulate the popularity of e-sports at Dal.
“[Before COVID-19] we were designing things like [screen] backgrounds that match, so at tournaments, it looks impressive. We updated our jersey design too,” he said. “On top of that, it’s about how we can push the community to become involved. Things we’ve done before were weekend tournaments and pickup games.”
Dhillon added recruiting for the DeSS could begin again as soon as June, depending on the vaccine roll-out and subsequent health restrictions.
A team sport
With the school year less than a month from ending, it looks like the e-sports season will finish from a distance. But the players don’t want it to stay that way forever. Like any sports team, Mostovac said, there’s nothing like competing alongside your teammates.
“In person, you’re there with your teammates that you’ve been playing with for so long and you have that camaraderie that you don’t get as much of online,” he said. “That’s very important for me since I have a background playing a lot of team sports and I’ve always been with a team. There’s nothing like that, when you’re with the team before a game and you’re all excited for the game. It’s something I’d love to get back to.”