Esports boom during quarantine

The pandemic pushes students to esports

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Collin Qian, Sports Editor

Senior Kunaal Venugopal has been a long time fan of Overwatch, a first-person shooter team-based game created by Blizzard Entertainment that involves traditional features of video games like control points and escorting payloads. But when his idol, Jay “sinatraa” Won, made the switch from Overwatch to Riot Games’ new and extremely hyped game, Valorant,he was in shock. According to liquipedia, sinatraa “is the only player in the world to win an Overwatch League championship title, be the Regular Season MVP, win a Overwatch World Cup title and be the World Cup MVP all in one season.” Valorant is a five-versus-five tactical first-person shooter in which the objective of the game is to either attack bombsites, plant bombs and detonate them or defend the bomb sites from the attacking side.

“It was like Michael Jordan moving to baseball,” Venugopal said. “I was nervous for him because of how different the games were. He was risking a lot and I was unsure if he would find success.”

Venugopal claims that his junior year was quite stressful, which is why he wasn’t as engaged with the Overwatch and esports scene as he once was. However, Venugopal’s new interest in esports aligned perfectly with shelter-in-place orders after sinatraa signed to Sentinels’ professional Valorant team in April, just a few weeks after FUHSD school closures in March. 

“sinatraa retired from Overwatch to switch to this game, and I was like, ‘Damn, this game must be really good,’” Venugopal said. “So I started following that game, and teams were forming — a lot of players who I know from a bunch of different games started wanting to be part of a team so Valorant coming out at this time really shifted my focus towards esports.”

Senior Henry Zhai shares a similar experience with League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game in which two teams face off and try to complete objectives before the other team. After quarantine began, Zhai found himself spending a lot of his free time playing video games. 

“I would spend a good amount of time invested in [League of Legends],” Zhai said. “As quarantine got longer and longer, I would play more and more because obviously I can’t go outside. It’s the only thing to do.”

Zhai had originally started playing League of Legends because his classmates encouraged him to. While he originally didn’t take the game very seriously, once he learned about the ranked scene during quarantine, he started enjoying it more and paying attention to the details.

As Zhai spent more time playing League of Legends, he found himself ranking higher in the ladders, experiencing the higher level of gameplay as a result. After hitting the platinum rank (the top 10% of all players), Zhai browsed the competitive scene, where up and coming professionals play. He ended up signing up for a “League of Legends Bootcamp,” hosted by UC Irvine’s competitive League of Legends team in July.

“They had a one-week-long camp online on Discord,” Zhai said. “It was actually extremely fun. I was nervous at first because I was the lowest ranked player but I put in a lot of effort and [over time] performed pretty well. Everyone was very friendly and the coaches and counselors really mentored me a lot. I learned most of what I know about League [of Legends] from that camp.”

Senior Monica Wang had a similar experience with esports during remote learning. She found herself having much more free time to spend on video games and while she had also been a casual League of Legends player, Wang became much more interested in the friendships she made rather than the competitiveness of the game that Zhai enjoyed. 

“I had the chance to bond with new people who are also [MVHS] graduated students,” Wang said. “It was really nice to just connect with them and get to know who they are. I really value these times I spent with my friends online, because I know that these relationships don’t last forever so that made me treasure my time with them.”

In addition, Wang discovered TwitchTV, the streaming platform primarily for gaming influencers, through some videos on YouTube. Early on, she found herself following many of the top League of Legends streamers. The first ever Twitch stream she watched was the League of Legends championships in 2018.

“I think there were [around] 155 [thousand] people watching [the championships],” Wang said. “I was just so shocked [that] there [were] so many people watching … And I don’t have subscriptions to really let [the streamers] know I’m here, so it was just kind of overwhelming for me.”

In late June, one of Wang’s favorite streamer groups on Twitch, OfflineTV House, experienced several legal problems. According to CNN, One of OfflineTV House’s content creator, Fedmyster, with 570 thousand followers on Twitch,faced allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted touching exposed by two of his roommates. As Wang had always enjoyed Fedmyster’s fun personality, this news shocked her.

Like Wang, Venugopal also follows streamers on Twitch. After sinatraa finished his team practice for Sentinels Valorant, he would often start up his livestream and interact with his stream chat. Venugopal would often stay up late watching these streams and engaging in these chats.

“It’s definitely a connection [even though] you wouldn’t call [these streamers] your friends and they don’t really know you,” Venugopal said. “You can go into their chats and you can talk to them and make jokes. You can legitimately talk to them.”