EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: W&M esports Team, Max Simon

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With children around the world growing up with technology quite literally at their fingertips (think: children in strollers grasping to iPads for dear life), we here on planet Earth seem to be headed toward a reality that exists more and more in the digital realm.

For better or worse (with your view on the matter largely depending on which year you were born in; i.e. the older you are, the more likely you are to view this as a “negative”), the concept of a “metaverse” — where life exists in both the physical and digital realms, is quickly becoming reality.

After all, that which makes us human (morality, character, empathy, unconditional love, etc.) can still be expressed in the digital world; should we then view digital experiences as any “less” than our physical experience of life?

Each year, technological advancements make digital experiences more “real.” Now, just about anything you can dream of can become reality in the digital realm — which is part of the reason why digital life is so attractive to those who have grown up in it.

But how does all of this relate to our beloved College of William & Mary, and more specifically, to our sports teams? Well, if you missed our initial article on the rise of esports and how the phenomenon is growing, you should check that out first; it’s titled, “What are esports and Should W&M have a Team?

Having published that article way back in December 2019, it seems our clairvoyance knows no bounds — just kidding, but we did actually get something right. Because just this month, in March 2021, W&M announced the opening of its very own Esports Training and Research Center (see video below).

While a small but mighty facility now, we assure you this is something that will increase exponentially as more kids in strollers (with iPads) grow up and become W&M students.

This past week, we were lucky enough to connect with W&M esports’ own Max Simon; that Q&A is below.

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1.     Since this is still a new concept for many of our readers, can you briefly explain what esports even are?

Esports refers to a competitive subsection of the video game community. Collegiate esports sees student gamers representing the university competing against other schools’ players in fighting games, first-person shooters, sports titles, and MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) for example.

2.     What’s your own background with esports: how did you get into gaming?

Growing up as a kid in suburban New Jersey, the esports scene was almost nonexistent, but this didn’t stop me from getting better at my favorite games. Though considered casual by some, Mario Kart and Smash Bros. were my gateway to the world of competitive gaming and I’ve been invested ever since. As my skills increased over the years, I found a new appreciation for esports and I’m so grateful to be involved with this community at W&M.

3.     Are you at all interested in a career in esports?

I would love to work in the esports scene! Video games have been my passion for as long as I can remember and I’m super excited to see W&M offer classes to help prepare students for a career in Esports.

4.     What do you see as the similarities & differences between esports and traditional stick and ball sports?

There are many similarities between esports and traditional sports with varying amounts of teamwork and competition.  With esports, we see another level of creativity, communication, collaboration, and community.  

Some competitive games, primarily fighting games, are 1v1s, which depend entirely on player skill. Meanwhile, team shooters can require up to six people to communicate and play effectively to win.

Esports arrived at W&M during a time we needed it most. Livestreamed matches of players competing from their own setups allows for safer viewing and competing amidst the pandemic.

Since esports is so new and video games increasingly complex, there is definitely a learning curve as a spectator. This gives commentators a huge responsibility in relaying information to viewers who may not be familiar with the rules or the objective of the game.

5.     What has been the history of esports at W&M up to this point?

The beauty is that this started as a grassroots. student-lead effort.  A group of faculty, administrators, and staff, working on a University Teaching & Learning project, learned about the W&M gaming community.  They validated this growing community and saw the opportunity to intersect gaming and academics to prepare a pipeline for those of us wanting to get into the $1 billion esports industry from a competitive gamer, caster, event planner, and data analyst to marketing, coach, and video game programmer. There are so many job opportunities and we are fortunate that W&M is innovative to help develop the esports landscape.

6.     What went into building out a formal esports group at William & Mary?

Community!  We needed everyone to see the value of onboarding esports here. There are two objectives to the program–Academic and Applied.  The most challenging part has been the academic objective.  There’s so many policies and procedures to follow so we needed strong leadership. 

Our faculty, administrators, and staff provided gamers a space to train and students a place to research gaming with the opening of the ETARC (Esports Training & Research Center) on March 4th, 2021.  Since that announcement, we have had W&M alumni in the esports industry reaching out to the Director to offer their services. The applied objective really grew quickly.  We partnered with EGF (Electronic Gaming Federation) and competed in our first season against other division I schools.  Esports allowed us to participate in homecoming in a new way!  Since our football game against University of Delaware was canceled, we almost missed out on the tradition of homecoming.  Fortunately, UDel Esports Director contacted our Director and we made history–we became the first-ever division I universities to compete in a Homecoming Esports Challenge.  Our Director even authored an article in the International Sports Business Journal about the event!

A formal roster was created through applications and tryouts, coaches were identified, a gamer jersey designed, and we were on our way to branding and representing W&M esports on a national stage.  There is a select group of seven students, EP (Esports Pioneers) who have been integral in collaborating with the EAB (Esports Advisory Board) to build the esports academic and applied objectives while involving the entire W&M gaming community!

7.     If someone wants to join, what are the requirements?

The easiest way to get involved is to join the W&M Esports Club discord server (https://discord.gg/HkJnCzH)! From there, you can easily get into contact with the players and coaches of our esports teams and they would be happy to answer any specific questions.

8.     Building off the previous question (if not answered already), are there specific video games that the team competes in and/or are you open to new games?

Our newest teams compete in the Electronic Gaming Federation’s (EGF) league. There is a team for each of the four games selected by EGF, being FIFA 21, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Rocket League, and Overwatch. EGF is currently gauging student interest to include more titles in the next season and we would love to see more students get involved as the list of games offered continues to grow. We also have a League of Legends team competing with College League of Legends (CLOL).

9.     Tell us more about the story behind your awesome new facility and how it can take W&M esports to the next level.

The Esports Training and Research Center (ETARC) is specifically open to W&M Esports Competitive Gamers, fit with six high-performance PC setups and a streaming and production room. The room can be used for regular practices or on game-day, providing the teams a synergy unmatched by virtual togetherness. The production room can further expand the reach of Esports at W&M through livestreamed events held on campus. 

10. In the long term, where do you see the future of W&M esports going?

In just our first year of esports, W&M has already made great strides, but there is almost unlimited potential for growth. With our teams well-established, our next objectives are creating an academic track for esports, attracting sponsors, looking into recruitment of high-level players, and spreading the word about this relatively new venture for the university. I hope that our efforts create a future at W&M where students apply to the university in hopes of joining the Esports program and our courses provide the means of attaining a career in the industry.

11. Anything else to add?

Sign up for one of the five Esports Level-up Summer classes! www.wm.edu/esports

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