Electronic sports, more commonly referred to as eSports, has revolutionized the gaming landscape over recent years. From nationally-broadcasted tournaments on ESPN to now university-funded college teams, eSports has skyrocketed into a multi-million-dollar platform.
Some schools have even begun to offer scholarships for eSports players, just as they would for a student-athlete.
For Seton Hall’s Jared Maldonado and Connor O’Reilly, the combination of video games and one late night in a dorm room paid off into something extraordinary down the road. The two friends, both sophomores, competed in the Big East eSports Invitational on April 15 alongside teammates Nicholas Lynch and Alec Mandel, with the four bringing home gold in the competition for the video game Rocket League.
Maldonado and O’Reilly met last year as freshmen and soon developed a bond over playing Rocket League together. Not long after becoming friends, the two received an email about a potential eSports team coming to Seton Hall. Neither could have imagined that one year later they would be part of a Pirate team that took down sides from Marquette and DePaul University, both having more experience.
For Seton Hall, the story of eSports is one of humble beginnings, as the eSports program is not as developed as others that compete in Big East play. Maldonado and O’Reilly play in their respective dorms, whereas other students can play in gaming centers on campus.
In total, the entire tournament took upwards of six hours.
“The qualifiers took about three hours,” Maldonado said. “The finals took about two and a half hours, because they did each match individually and were streaming it.”
The tournament finals were not only streamed, but also featured live commentators, giving anyone with internet access the ability to watch and listen as the Big East schools competed. Maldonado and O’Reilly listened to the broadcast while they were playing in the Rocket League competition. The stage was a nice surprise for the two students, and a big step up from where they started over a year prior.
Their rise speaks to the relaxed nature in which the two approach the game, even though the game offers accreditation. For Maldonado and O’Reilly, eSports is still a simple practice of playing entertaining games together that they enjoy.
They hold no strict or superstitious pregame routines; the two like to simply hang out. However, once competition time closes in, the two they revert to music to get focused and prepared, albeit in different ways
“As for pregame warmup, I just play guitar and piano,” Maldonado said. “I seriously feel like it helps with the game later on.”
“I don’t have a pregame warmup necessarily,” O’Reilly said. “I listen to my SoundCloud, but that’s really it.”
The two play together all the time, but it is not something they view as practice, or something that they absolutely need to do.
“We play enough, so it’s weird looking at it as practice,” O’Reilly said. “We just like playing Rocket League. It’s a fun game that all of our friends like.”
“In Rocket League, there is a training mode,” Maldonado said. “Sometimes I just try to keep the ball close to my car and try things. It’s just fun. I could do it for hours listening to music.”
In terms of benefits for the tournament, there was no cash prize; however, each member of the team will receive a Big East medal.
“The crazy part is that it it’s similar to what the athletes get,” Maldonado said. “For basketball, if they won the Big East, they would get this medal, but engraved different. Our medal says eSports. It’s pretty legit.”
The team does not have anything in their forecast moving forward, although they have been in contact with the official eSports League about playing in short “Sunday tournaments.”
The current Seton Hall team only has a handful of players, but both Maldonado and O’Reilly hope to see that grow in the future. The school also has a League of Legends team that has been competing regularly in tournaments.
“eSports are definitely taking over,” O’Reilly said. “There are millions of people watching and the numbers are ridiculous.”
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.