Teams adjusted to competing from home because of the coronavirus pandemic
Two University of Delaware esports teams are advancing to the national championships.
Boasting a stunning 15-1 season, and emerging as the Eastern Champions in the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF) Conference Playoffs, UD’s Rocket League team will enter the EGF League Championships as the top seed. The Overwatch team had a strong season with a 10-6 record. The Overwatch team will move into the championships as the seventh seed.
Despite a turbulent year — including the temporary closure of the new high-tech Esports Arena in Perkins Student Center last spring — the varsity teams were undeterred. Fueled by their passion for the games, the Blue Hens quickly pivoted to a completely virtual environment. Rather than the high-performance PCs of the arena, students had to rely on their personal home setups. Strategies were switched for recruitment and scrimmages. Players re-focused on team-building and strengthening communication to continue competing on a national level.
Now, with the championships just days away, the players’ hard work and dedication has paid off. Several players from these teams spoke of their experience.
Will Kuper is the current captain of the Overwatch team and has been with the team since it began as the first-ever varsity squad in fall 2019. He is a junior mechanical engineering major from Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
Tyler Grau is a senior chemical engineering major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is one of the founding captains of the Rocket League team.
Alex Castro is a new addition to the Rocket League team starting lineup this year. He is a junior from Wilmington, Delaware who is majoring in computer science.
Q: How is it going this year?
Kuper: I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished with an ever-changing roster due in part to COVID. The coach that we started working with this year, Mikaël Silva, has been the number one difference-maker in our play. We wouldn’t have been half as successful without him.
I also worked to reform our club team. Going into this year we lost a lot of varsity members. Liam Macnamara [founding member and team manager] and I decided it would be best to have a club team again to build up new talent. To facilitate, we found players to compete under the club banner. This has already brought multiple students into our program who weren’t involved in esports at UD in their previous years on campus. Two of which are now starting varsity players. This is very important in esports since we don’t have the opportunity to recruit from high schools.
Q: What have been the challenges and/or benefits to playing remotely vs. playing together in the Arena?
Grau: Playing remotely is nice because you are able to maintain the comfort and normalness of playing on your own setup, but you definitely miss being with the team in the arena at the same time, as it’s just a fun atmosphere.
Kuper: Having limited ability for players to meet in person has caused a few challenges. The opening of the arena last spring gave us a really great opportunity to come together as a team, and really get to know each other. Without being able to physically be with teammates, there are definitely challenges in keeping people accountable and making the team really feel like a team. The only possible upside being that it likely made the commitment seem less daunting for new players.
Q: What got you involved in esports (casually and/or competitively)?
Castro: I have been playing competitively since I was about 16 years old and just last year found out that UD had a team. My teammate, Tyler, found out I played and we ended up reaching out to each other and that’s where I started competing with the team.
Grau: I have always been competitive with sports in high school and saw a great opportunity to maybe make some money and have some fun playing a game that I had loved for years. (Note: Unlike NCAA-governed sports, esports competitors are eligible to win scholarship money from tournaments, cash prizes and other gifts for winning play.)
Q: How does what you’re doing relate to your future career?
Kuper: I’m a mechanical engineer and I personally am very interested in designing computer peripherals such as mice, keyboards and controllers. I believe having this experience and being so active in these communities has given me a much better perspective on the market of these products that I’m interested in, more so than the vast majority of other mechanical engineers.
Grau: Being on a Rocket League team requires a lot of leadership and group work skills that will definitely help me in the real world when trying to get my coworkers to mesh in any group projects.
Castro: Right now, I am just playing competitively for UD as it lets me compete for scholarship money while playing a game I’ve been playing for a long time. It gives me something to do when I am not doing school work but in the future I hope to have a career in the tech industry.
Q: How many hours do you spend practicing?
Kuper: As a team we have two to four two-hour scrimmages and an official match each week. Additionally, we have a weekly three-hour review with our coach where players can get individual help and we can go over the recordings of our most recent matches. On an individual basis, players are expected to be warming up before every scrim and match. Players also can expect that if they aren’t putting in consistent practice individually, think an hour or two daily, others will improve past them. Starting spots are never a guarantee.
If you’re interested in learning more and getting involved with Blue Hen esports, visit bluehenesports.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in to see the Rocket League and Overwatch teams in the EGF League Championships from April 16-25, streaming on the @officialEGF Twitch channels.
Article by Sean Diffendall | Photos by Evan Krape and Sarah Boekholder | April 16, 2021