ASU Esports competing at the Fiesta Bowl National Championships. Photo courtesy of Jake Matson.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a massive toll on the daily lives and economic well-being of many people around the globe. 

The sports community experienced much of the same. Leagues abruptly ended their seasons while athletes retreated to their homes awaiting news of a return. 

For one sport, however, there is a major bright side to what seems to be a totally negative situation. Competitive video gaming, or esports, was pushed to the forefront of the sports world and has flourished in a time where most have suffered. 

In general, esports has seen a massive popularity spike in the last two months, as major networks such as ESPN and FOX Sports began broadcasting live gaming events.

Not only have professional esports leagues carried on through this pandemic, but collegiate competitions have continued as well. 

According to Arizona State University Esports President Jake Matson, the past few months have served as proof of the versatility esports possesses that other sports don’t.

“For a lot of us, this is nothing new,” Matson said. “That’s what people are starting to realize with esports, and with video games as a whole, is that you don’t have to be sitting next to your teammate or be in the same room as your opponent.”

ASU Esports is the largest club on campus with nearly 2,000 members. Within that club there are 200 players who compete on a yearly basis, with roughly 20 competitive teams ranging across 12 different video games. These teams face off against other schools all along the West Coast and all throughout the nation.

While ASU Esports has seemingly continued on with no problem during the coronavirus pandemic, Matson addressed some challenges that have come along with it. Those obstacles include scheduling across time zones, as well as some major events getting canceled.

Most prominently, ASU Esports has a “Magic: The Gathering” team that made it to the grand finals of a 64-team national field in April. The grand finals were scheduled to be played in Las Vegas with $3,000 in prize money going to each player on the winning team. 

Much like most sporting events around the world, the grand finals were canceled, forcing the team to wait an indefinite amount of time, hoping it will get to compete in the near future.

“They’re kind of just sitting there thinking ‘when are we going to get to play this?’” Matson said. “That’s a lot of money on the table that they can’t really do anything about.”

Two other major leagues that ASU Esports is a part of took a hit due to the pandemic. 

Tespa, a collegiate league involving games produced by Blizzard Entertainment (a multi-billion dollar game-developing corporation), was recently postponed. 

Additionally, Collegiate Star League, an organization that hosts gaming competitions for over 1,800 college teams, was also put on hold until further notice. 

“We have our fingers crossed that those two leagues are going to come back in the upcoming weeks,” Matson said.

Matson mentioned that similar to other sports, there is a sentimental burden that a total cancellation would cause for the teams.

“Just like regular sports, I have a lot of seniors where this is potentially the last time they play competitive video games,” Matson said. “I’m really hoping that those leagues come back so that these guys can get that last shot.”

Despite those leagues experiencing a hiatus, ASU Esports is still competing on many different levels. 

“We got really lucky at ASU,” Matson said. “We obviously have a practice space for some of our top-tier teams, so there is an in-person element to it, but aside from that, all the other teams practice online anyway. Nine times out of 10 they aren’t playing in person normally.”

Once life returns to normal, Matson is excited for the future of ASU Esports. 

The club plans on collaborating with Arizona State’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts to provide a full public esports practice facility on campus. The facility would include 12 fully functioning gaming computers and would charge an hourly rate for anyone wishing to use it, much like a fitness gym. 

That project will not be finished until the fall semester, when the university expects to bring students back for in-person classes. 

In the meantime, ASU Esports will continue to take advantage of the luxury that comes with a sport that can be played remotely, with hopes that a return to normal life is on the horizon. 

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