EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The pandemic caused many stadiums to close their doors and cancel numerous sporting events, but E-sports have thrived in this environment, gaining more fans and more players in the past several months.
This sport is extremely convenient considering it consists of players or teams of players playing a video game against each other and streaming it for fans to watch.
Even in the Borderland, E-sports have set their place at the New Mexico State University, where their team has been competing since 2012.
Back in the day, director of the NMSU E-sports team, Matthew Lenz, discovered his passion for competitive gaming as a student at NMSU and joined the group of gamers who would later form an official team.
As the years went by, the team saw a need for hierarchy and structure, explained Lenz.
In 2018 the official team was formed, with coaches, players and administration. It still operates as a club but enjoys full support from the NMSU Athletics Department.
“It’s not a sport, it’s an E-sport – an electronic sport,” added Lenz, explaining how E-sports don’t have to be incorporated in the Athletics Department to be considered sports.
However, the director of NMSU Athletics Mario Moccia says E-sports are climbing up the ladder and are now officially recognized by the New Mexico Activities Association which regulates sports activities for high schools across the state.
“There are over 50 high schools in New Mexico that sponsor E-sports teams, that means New Mexico State has the ability to recruit to those 50 high schools”, explained Moccia
At the moment there are no scholarships offered for collegiate level E-sports players, but Moccia mentions there is a bright future for E-sports players even after college, saying some of them make even six-digit paychecks.
According to Twitch, a popular streaming platform for gamers, the viewership of E-sports has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic.
In April, Twitch recorded almost 2 billion hours watched and is still staying in high numbers even with strict quarantine wearing off.
One of the NMSU team players, Enrique Salas, looked back onto some of the team’s greatest experiences such as the OP Live: Dallas in 2018, which is held in person and allow players to meet their opponents face to face.
Even though streaming is the safest way of participating at the moment, Enrique still fondly remembers the excitement and cheering of the fans when their team won.
The live component of E-sports brings them closer to mainstream sports, such as football and basketball, but Salas and Lenz can find other arguments to say E-sports, in fact, are a sport.
“It’s just like lifting weights every day. It’s kind of a meme in our community. You just ‘click heads’. So every day you have to ‘click the heads’ to get that muscle memory,” explained Salas saying trainings are a big part of E-sports.
The players and coaches record their practices and later reflect on them, just like in football.
Lenz explained how important teamwork is, as gaming is all about finding solutions to challenges presented in the games.
“It’s competitive by nature and we are competitive by nature. And so, to say that it’s not a sport really negates the actual skill and effort that people put into to be good at that kind of stuff,” concluded Salas.
When looking into the future, Lenz sees E-sports in the U.S. growing more each day and creating its own ‘ecosystem.’
“Korea is the example that the rest of the world looks at whenever they are wondering where the future of E-sports is going to be. It has its own full ‘ecosystem’. It has its own TV stations, organizations, teams and we already see that happening now,” explained Lenz.
The future of E-sports is already around the corner here in the Borderland.
Harena Data and Horizon Group Properties announced earlier in July they will be building drive through Esports arenas all around the country, with one of them set for El Paso, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
This would allow fans to cheer for their teams, but still remain at a safe distance in their car.
As for the NMSU team, the upcoming semester has brought some changes in the campus life.
They hope to have a grand opening of their new gaming room inside the Corbett Center, which has been postponed when the campus closed.
This room will be used for hours of practice for the upcoming tournaments and let them bring their game to another level.