With OUA sports cancelled for the fall, esports could be in for a breakout year as the only high-level intercollegiate competition.
While varsity athletes struggle with the implications of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) cancellations, Ryerson esports teams are in the midst of tryouts for what could be a landmark year.
Esports — competitive video gaming — at the collegiate level involves universities and colleges fielding teams of student athletes in a host of different popular games.
Significant advances, like the University of Waterloo bringing their esports teams under the banner of their athletics department and the formation of the Ontario Postsecondary Esports league, point to major potential for competitive gaming in Ontario post-secondary schools.
The OPSE is an ambitious new league boasting a $24,000 scholarship reward for the winners of its first season.
Currently, all Ryerson esports teams are organized within the Ryerson Esports club, headed this year by president Liam Parmar and vice-president Alexa Patino.
As in previous years, one of the core tasks of the club’s leadership is to grow the esports scene and provide as much support as they can for their student athletes.
“Everything we do this year is to increase the value our players see and feel from our club,” said Parmar. “Before, we had this issue where players don’t necessarily feel responsible (for) our club. We want them to feel that we actually are providing them with a valuable service and a valuable reason to be part of our club.”
While Parmar and Patino will primarily focus on their competitive teams, they also know that bringing more casual gamers into the fold of the club will help to grow the esports community as a whole.
“We’re looking to build a fan base for our teams and our players,” said Parmar. “We feel like building community through events is the easiest way to do that.”
While the virtual-only world, mandated because of the pandemic, could lead to a larger interest in esports as a means of recreation, Patino says that prospective gamers have to make the first step.
“The big issue with us trying to reach a crowd that we’ve never reached before is that the only way that you can find us is if you look for us,” said Patino. “Once you look for us, it’s very very easy.”
Tryouts will take place over the coming weeks for 10 of the 11 teams offered: APEX Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, Hearthstone, League of Legends, NHL 20, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Melee.