Video games have come a long way since 1958. Sixty-two years after the first game is thought to be created, there are now numerous consoles and platforms to experience. Annual conventions and expos like E3 highlight the mainstream drive and appeal of gaming, as well as movies like Ready Player One (based on the book by Ernest Cline). Whether online or offline, if you like esports, there are plenty of ways to get your fix. This year at New Hampton School, a new curricular formed for esports—competitive gaming that highlights the strategic and stimulating fun sought after by many students. Set in an online environment, one needs only access to their preferred console, tablet, or computer to engage in a new world.
This spring, the social and competitive connection that esports provides has also offered a sense of normalcy in an otherwise strange pandemic landscape. The growth in interest at schools led to, for the first time, a NEPSAC [New England Prep School Athletics Council] organized Esports championship tournament. Teams from Holderness, New Hampton, Proctor, and Tilton School assembled their squads for an evening event in Fortnite, a game by creator Epic Games. With this rise in popularity, it is time to explore the beginnings of the team here at New Hampton School.
Early in September, support for an Esports curricular began with a call to action. One of the founding members, Ben Fridlington, came up with the idea last spring after playing games with many New Hampton School students. Fridlington shares, “I knew there were more people on campus who were interested, so I contacted Mr. Arsenault and got to work planning. Seeing this group come together has really been a dream come true.” A quick email to the student population led to lots of interest, and with the help of the group’s faculty advisor, Dr. Duncan, Esports was swiftly underway.
As a group, they set schedules and locations to come together and discuss strategies and play games. While popular games like Fortnite and Minecraft are among the mix, their favorite games to play include Overwatch, Rocket League, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Many of these games require intensive strategies in problem-solving and quick action. Furthermore, as they are online, the players you encounter, as well as the environment, can lack predictability. So to be successful, you need skills, planning, and a little bit of luck.
As in many team situations, Fridlington stresses that the most crucial player qualities are focus and communication. For those familiar with the 2005 World of Warcraft video clip featuring Leeroy Jenkins, you will know how key those qualities are in a game. (Hint: You don’t want a Leeroy Jenkins on your team.) Esports are similar to traditional sports in utilizing the strengths of your teammates to achieve the best result. And, also, practice is a necessity. “Being 100% focused on the game and the task at hand is essential. Esports, just like any other sport, takes an immense amount of practice to be successful. While the practice is not physically draining, it can definitely be mentally draining.”
To help teammates achieve open communication, they utilize headsets. Experiential knowledge of the game and making audible callouts helps the team stay organized and oriented. “Having the team be on a call together in headsets and knowing the map callouts are important.” Fridington explains, “A map callout is basically the name of a specific location on the playing field. So instead of someone saying, ‘An opponent is coming from up ahead,’ they could say, ‘An opponent is coming from C long, headed towards C site.’ This gives you a much more accurate idea of where your opponents are.”
Social connection and collaboration
The gamer community, whether looking at it from a school curricular perspective or on a much larger scale, provides a unique social connection. Gamers can compete with other schools, friends, and players from around the globe in any given session for some internationally competitive games. They can also learn from viewing live streams on Twitch, discussions on Discord, and other platforms. For our area prep schools, a collaboration between faculty advisors and coaches helped draw together events for students. “Playing against other schools is really cool. The fact that other schools are taking this seriously is a huge confidence boost for me in terms of the future of esports at New Hampton.”
Another feature of many esports is global leaderboards. These rankings highlight the best of the best players in skill and commitment through public scoreboards. Fridlington has personal experience in this achievement in a personal favorite game—Beat Saber. He helpfully shares a video from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to show the addictive rhythm-based game played by Jimmy and actress Brie Larson. As a virtual reality experience featuring music, Fridlington has received a pro ranking. “It is currently the only game that I have ever had a true “Pro” ranking, meaning that I’ve been in the top ten of the global leaderboards. I really enjoy this game because it is based on rhythm. As a musician, this rhythm is something that comes naturally to me, so I feel that my background has helped me to succeed.”
How to get started
From playing on consoles by Nintendo to Xbox and Playstation, there are many avenues to embark on a gaming journey. For esports, playing on a PC is essential for major events and competitions. If you are someone looking to get into esports, Fridlington has advice. First off, don’t give up. “You are going to be bad at first, and that’s okay. Keep on practicing, and don’t listen to anyone telling you that you’re bad and should give up. Becoming good takes time, so just keep playing.”
The payoff for your efforts? This comes with a highly social community to cheer you on, teammates who are friends, and real-life skills in organization, strategy, and communication. Even if rankings elude you, there will always be memories to make you laugh, and moments of victory. Fridlington shares, “Recently, my favorite moment was when I was in a game of Valorant. The game was tied up 12-12, and my team won the game by getting a diffuse with 0.3 seconds remaining in the round to win 13-12. I know most people reading this won’t understand, but my fellow gamers will.”
An open community
Congratulations to all the members this year. We thank you for organizing tournaments for faculty and students alike in recent weeks. As for the future of sports at New Hampton, we look forward to seeing the team continue to grow.