While the COVID-19 pandemic has altered countless typical activities, the SUNY Oswego eSports Association continues to foster community and competition for its many members.

The organization has maintained a strong presence in the past year, culminating in their involvement with the inaugural season of the SUNY eSports League during the fall 2020 semester.

Once the pandemic began, the group was determined not to let it affect their events, or the participation from students across campus. 

“We are still trying to make events and competitions, because we want to take advantage of the fact that we can grow, and still thrive, despite not seeing each other,” said Shane Rosales, the fighting game coordinator for Oswego’s eSports Association.

A key reason for their sustained success is the fact that players can compete against one another without having to physically be in the same location. Not only does this allow for continued competition, but it also provides players with much-needed connectivity during a time of heightened isolation.

“I’m definitely grateful that we can all still connect and participate despite a global pandemic,” Rosales said. “It makes running the club a lot more special, and makes us feel more connected.… We can still have our events and have our competitions, despite being miles away from each other.”

From a competitive standpoint, the increased connection with others also allows players to improve their skills in a wide variety of games. 

“Ever since I joined the eSports community, I’ve met many different players with many different play styles,” Rosales said. “I definitely have a better understanding of fighting game fundamentals. … I definitely improved. I think more about what I’m doing when I play video games now.”

The growth of eSports, particularly within the SUNY realm, was on full display in November. SUNY, in partnership with Extreme Networks and LeagueSpot, held the first-ever season of the SUNY eSports League during the fall semester. It featured more than 1,000 players, representing 45 different schools from the SUNY system.

SUNY students competed against one another in games such as Rainbow 6 Siege, Call of Duty, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Valorant, Fortnite and Smite.

“ESports continue to connect SUNY students at a pivotal time when many feel physically isolated from their friends and classmates,” said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras in a press release. “As important, eSports has broken down barriers and connected students with different backgrounds together… the widespread interest and growth potential for eSports is clear.”

Plans are already underway for SUNY's eSports competitions this spring.

Even after the pandemic comes to an end, eSports will continue to grow and expand. The SUNY Oswego eSports Association initially began in 2012, as the League of Legends Club. It has since expanded to include a large variety of games, and is growing in size every year. 

If the league in the fall was any indication, this is not an isolated trend either. There is currently an eSports organization at nearly every SUNY school, and the initial eSports League boasted 342 individual teams from the 45 participating schools. 

While the pandemic may have emphasized how eSports can help connect people, the growth of gaming was being felt long before COVID-19, and will continue long after. 

-- Written by Dylan McGlynn, Class of 2021