The Central Maine Community College esports program achieved some success in its first year, which was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted photo

Even the esports players at Central Maine Community College are cut off from their equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

As with just about everything else, the CMCC Esports Arena at Kirk Hall on the school’s campus had to be shut down, which has left the Mustangs without access to the 30 gaming PCs and the five console stations that each feature a Playstation 4 Pro, XBox One S and Nintendo Switch. 

“I know it seems like students could play from home, but when competing you need a high-level PC and an even better internet connection. A lot of our students just don’t have what they need to compete,” said Andrew Morong, CMCC’s women’s basketball coach and director of admissions who oversees the esports program. “Some teams are still practicing, but most people are just casually playing.” 

All of the spring seasons for the games that CMCC’s program offers had to be stopped in March, and the remaining events have since been canceled. 

“We were in the middle of five to six seasons that all ended abruptly,” Morong said. “Campuses were closing left and right, the organizations and leagues we belonged to had no other choice but to cancel seasons. It was unfortunate for our student-athletes who worked really hard at their craft, but we understood that health and safety had to come first.”  

Dustin West, CMCC’s director of esports and its Fortnite coach, said some of the athletes have been able to “refine their craft in the comfort of their own home” during the pandemic through livestreaming their game play on Twitch or uploading game play videos to YouTube and other social media platforms. 

That has become all the rage with many people stuck at home who are looking for some form of fresh entertainment to watch. 

Some professional sports leagues have gotten in on the virtual action, and have created leagues and tournaments for their athletes to compete against each other and stay connected with fans. 

CMCC’s esports players were locked in to the gaming PCs at the campus’ esports arena during the program’s first year of competition. Submitted photo

CMCC’s Madden and NBA 2K coach, Connor Sheehy said he gains a new perspective while watching pro athletes play same games as his teams.

“It’s definitely interesting to see these superstar-caliber players, that you only see on TV, that are doing something that’s more of a real-world thing, which is playing video games,” Sheehy said. “I think an important thing to take away is that they’re also people, too, so their skill levels are very different, much like competitive game-players, too.” 

Sheehy has been keeping tabs on streams of NFL players competing against each other on the Madden video game. He was especially intrigued by the Checkdown tournament that the NFL and EA games (maker of the Madden franchise) put on. 

“There was one (matchup) between (Los Angeles Chargers teammates) Derwin James and Keenan Allen, and that one was really fun to watch because they were two people that not only are really good at real-life football, but they clearly know how to play the game very well, whether it’s on XBox or Playstation,” Sheehy said. “And they were just locked-in, making adjustments with their controllers, so you could tell they were playing at a very high level, much like how competitive esports does. So it translated pretty well, I think, between (real-life football and video-game football).” 

Morong said that while he’s not sure that pro athletes playing the video-game version of their sports has “directly increased recruiting opportunities, or generated more interest — as students watching these events were already watching them via Twitch and other streaming platforms,” but the events on TV have helped build awareness for those who may not fully understand esports. 

Sheehy said awareness should help the recruiting process. 

“I think what these professional athletes did is they brought more legitimacy to esports itself,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that can help us overall, is that sort of recognition when — let’s say I’m at a college fair and I’m talking about esports, there’s going to be more people in the room now that are aware of what it is and how they can be a part of it. Whereas a year and a half ago, when I was saying, ‘Next year we’ll have esports,’ only a couple people in the room knew what I was talking about.” 

Morong, West and Sheehy are already thinking about and planning for the second year of esports at CMCC. Morong said they didn’t know exactly what to expect for their first year, but that they exceeded whatever expectations they had. 

“Moving forward, I hope to see the interest in CMCC esports grow as we continue to progress as a program,” West said. “The early successes of not only the Fortnite team but most teams in the program are encouraging and will serve as a building block for the future of the program, and we’ll look to establish the winning culture that CMCC is so accustomed to.”

Sheehy said the CMCC Madden team went undefeated during the fall regular season, and West’s Fortnite duo of Mike Rowe and Mal Mercier were off to a 3-0 start this spring after making it to the final eight in the 90-plus-team ECAC Esports League. 

West and Morong will be taking part in a Fortnite event with current and prospective students and CMCC alumni on Thursday at 5 p.m. The event will be streamed online at www.twitch.tv/cmmustangs and will feature West and Morong competing against solo players and duo teams. Morong said there will also be raffles and prize giveaways involved. 

“This is the first event of its kind at the college, and is just another way to reach out to our students and engage with them in these different times,” he said. “We will be doing events like this more frequently, and probably create a schedule of events on a weekly basis.” 

Morong admitted that he’s “not very good” at Fortnite, but he knows what his role is. 

“I have been practicing a bit,” he said. “Needless to say, Dustin will be carrying us.”


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