June 3, 2021 – Amidst the backdrop of a pandemic, Shelton State Community College successfully launched an esports program. Esports, competitive, organized video gaming competitions with enormous appeal, is a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow. Creating a team was seen as a way to enhance the College’s student engagement and increase recruitment efforts.
In fall 2019, interest meetings for potential players were held, and the Fredd Campus was selected to house the gaming arena. Despite delays due to COVID-19 in spring 2020, the College remained dedicated to its goal of having an esports team and moved forward in joining the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports (NJCAAE) league. Participating in this league gave players the opportunity to compete on a national level against other two-year colleges.
“I found esports being brought to my attention at every turn,” said Cara Crosslin, Shelton State’s Athletic Director. “Esports has added a new layer to our athletics program and given students a way to explore their gaming skills together while competing against other college teams.”
The gaming skills of the Buccaneers were put to the test in their first NJCAAE tournament in fall 2020. The initial roster consisted of 11 players: Joslin Bowen, Matthew Chadwick, Samuel Cheek, Cayce Cochran, Jonathan Elder, Tomas Matias, Justin Morrow, Adrian Shamlee, Garrett Thompson, Cole Vick, and Dylan Welchel. Players competed in five different games: Valorant, Overwatch, Fortnite, Madden, and SuperSmashBros Ultimate. The spring 2021 roster had 16 players: Brylan Bragg, Matthew Chadwick, Samuel Cheek, Cayce Cochran, Jonah Duren, Jonathan Elder, Xavier Fields, Jackson Gaido, Ashton Hardin, Austin Hargett, Tyler Layton, Justin Morrow, Carson Poe, Garrett Thompson, Cole Vick, and Dylan Welchel. Players competed in seven different games in two leagues: Overwatch, Fortnite, Warzone, Gunfight, SuperSmashBros Ultimate, Valorant, and BeatSaber. BeatSaber is a virtual reality game played by Brylan Bragg in the CVRE (Collegiate Virtual Reality Esports) league.
Collectively, the group finished the spring semester with six winning records. This was a big bump up from only having one winning record during the inaugural season of the program. Brylan Bragg finished 3rd in Division 1 for the CVRE while one of the COD: Gunfight rosters and the Valorant team both moved to the NJCAAE quarterfinals. Honorable mentions included the Overwatch and COD: Warzone teams that finished the regular season 7-2 and 6-3 respectively. Jonathan Elder was hired as the part-time coach in October 2020. Although he spent his first semester also serving as a player, additional players on the spring roster allowed Elder to focus on coaching with limited game play.
Consistent with other club sports at the College, the team has the support of a faculty advisor. The Buccaneers were fortunate that Elena Hodgson, one of Shelton State’s librarians, was up to the task. “I, of course, accepted when I was asked about being the faculty advisor for esports,” said Hodgson about her role. Laughingly, she added, “Little did I know the work I was facing!”
Hodgson is passionate in her support for gaming and for sharing with others the benefits the gaming experience can offer. She has high expectations for the players – they must be dedicated to improving their individual skills, but also willing to work together as a team. “Everyone can’t be the hero,” she noted. “It’s a great life lesson to learn the significance of supporting roles. That has been especially important while playing socially distanced!”
Without face-to-face group meetings, the players have bonded through a common love of gaming and the desire to win. Players are active in the communication platform Discord where they offer advice and support for one another. “It was hard organizing things with the pandemic going on, but we made it happen,” said Cole Vick, Esports player. “We all became great friends and teammates, and I hate that I am graduating and leaving the program!” In addition to Vick, two other players will graduate in May, leaving behind large shoes to fill. Vick has confidence in the future for the program. “If someone asked me if they should join the Shelton State Esports team or if it is worth joining, I would have to say that if you don’t, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity.” Recruitment of new players is an ongoing process that will allow the Buccaneers to play more game titles or have multiple teams in competition.
In addition to new players, plans are ongoing for the new gaming arena coming to the College’s Fredd Campus. The College will house a state-of-the-art gaming facility complete with gaming computers, consoles, a casting area, and appropriate lighting. The arena will allow for streaming all games and will minimize or eliminate current challenges such as using personal equipment or personal internet connections. With pun intended, the updates will be game changing for the team.
Other “team goals” for next season include joining other leagues, expanding casting abilities, gaining more production value/content, and growing the overall player base through more student engagement. By joining other leagues, players will have additional opportunities to join and compete for Shelton State Community College. Similar to sportscasting, casting for esports involves explaining what is happening in a game while keeping viewers engaged. Players who have live streamed their matches to the College’s Twitch channel have occasionally had the added bonus of a caster. With effort, the use of casting will increase in the coming season.
Connect with the Shelton State esports team by following their Twitch channel at twitch.tv/ssccesports. See what is happening by following SSCC Athletics on social media. For additional information, contact Elena Hodgson (Esports Faculty Advisor) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A vital member of the Alabama Community College System, Shelton State Community College is committed to creating new opportunities for West Alabama. “With a renewed focus on meeting the needs of its customers, the College offers innovative solutions and an enhanced approach to customized education, training, and community impact,” states President Brad Newman. “Collectively, we will be excellent in each!”
Be part of the new vision for our shared community. Visit sheltonstate.edu to learn more or apply.