History was made at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, and it didn’t involve Billy Joel or the Islanders.
About a dozen Molloy students emerged from the Uniondale arena’s tunnel, walking single file to half-court, where six of them settled in front of computer screens to get ready for battle against counterparts from New York Institute of Technology.
The match, held after a Long Island Nets NBA G League basketball game, was hosted by NextGen Esports Productions. About 100 people stuck around to watch the first-ever esports event at the Coliseum, during which students competed in Overwatch, a multiplayer first-person-shooter video game released in 2016 in which players work together to secure and defend control points on a map, among other tasks and challenges. Attendees oohed and aahed throughout the gameplay as they observed the rounds play out on the arena’s big screens.
Steven Rizzo, a junior at Molloy, recalled being at a concert in the venue a year prior, and said he never imagined being on its floor looking up at the crowd that he was once a part of. “It was extremely surreal,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting a year ago, when I was playing this game, that I was going to end up on an esports team for my college playing in Nassau Coliseum.”
The East Coast Conference announced this past summer that it would introduce League of Legends, an online battle arena video game developed and published by Riot Games for Microsoft Windows and macOS, as a collegiate sport in 2019 and 2020. Molloy held tryouts in September for the game, and competition is set to begin in January. Molloy officials discovered many current students played the game at a high level, according to Janine Payton, Molloy’s vice president for student affairs.
Molloy later found that students were interested in Overwatch as well, and started a team. Then, after learning of the talents of Molloy senior Dwight Parker, who is among the top players in the country at Madden NFL, a popular football video game series, the Rockville Centre college launched a team for that too.
“It’s crazy that we’re at the Coliseum,” Payton said, noting that Molloy previously had a gaming club that incorporated video games, but that esports is now bringing competition to another level. “It’s been fun to grow and see where it’s taking us.”
Though the match with NYIT included several technical delays and ended in defeat for Molloy, it was a chance for the college to showcase its participation in a new extra-curricular that seems to be gaining popularity. It featured commentators, and was broadcast on Twitch, a live streaming video platform.
“This is the year that I think esports really goes from ‘What is that?’ to everybody knows what it is,” said Kerry Bourgoine, who Molloy brought in to consult the team, noting that Fortnite, an online game released last year has in particular rejuvenated the esports world. “It’s great to bring [esports] here, because it’s been growing and growing.”
A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that 72 percent of teenagers play video games regularly, and nearly 200 colleges in the United States and Canada are actively recruiting and offer scholarships for esports, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The Molloy students practice twice a week for nearly 4 hours each day, Bourgoine said, adding, “as soon as they’re done playing with us, they go home and they all play together.”
Senior Shawn Martin, 21, who specializes in League of Legends, said he was excited that Molloy has given him the opportunity to take his passion for gaming to the next level. He said he was thrilled to support the Overwatch team in a place he grew up watching the Islanders play. “We’re still working everything out, but we’re really doing the best we can,” he said. “I have really high hopes for the future.
Molloy will hold tryouts in January for scholarship offers for the 2019-20 academic year, at which time the college is looking into adding teams for Rocket League, a vehicular soccer video game and Fortnite.
Parker headed to Las Vegas this week after press time to compete in a Madden 19 Championship Series, where he intended to proudly represent Molloy. With the school’s support and scholarship opportunities available, he said he was excited about the future of esports.
“It’s a fun thing to do … but also to go to school and learn, that’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “The sky’s the limit really.”