Esports offer students chance to compete, with levels for all

student at computer playing video game
student at computer playing video game

Andrew Bigos has been Jackson College's esports coach for just over six months now. He has a group of about 25 students who practice weekly at the Jets Hangar to compete against other schools.

"When I started, I kind of took over and we had to kind of start from scratch," Bigos said. "From there we invited players and started having team meetings and we just keep growing."

The students are practicing games such as Valorant, Super Smash Bros., and Rocket League.

"It's been amazing. I love our computers here. It's really snappy and fun. The people are really good to play with. It's not toxic. It's like a breath of fresh air in this team here," Benjamin Kiska said.

There are multiple teams that play several games including Fortnite. Their Valorant team has around six starters, two managers and Coach Bigos. Valorant is a tactical shooter game where you have to win two full games to win the match. The games last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes while the matches can go for a long time.

"We're part of the NJCAAE league," Bigos said. "It's the Esports version with colleges from all the country. We played against one from Indiana last week, we played against someone from North Carolina, we play against some of the California teams but really from anywhere and they all have skill levels too."

Bigos says it's very different from traditional varsity sports.

"You're going to have your best players on scholarship, recruiting and that stuff whereas for us it's whoever wants to join and then we go from there," he said. "For example, our Rocket League team last week, who are all good players, played against three players who are in the top 1 percent of the U.S. That's going to be very difficult because it's not matched evenly, but that's how it goes."

But to be the best you have to beat the best. That's where the training comes in, says Player Coach Shane Fagan.

"The biggest challenge is just making sure that everyone can elevate each other," he said. "Revitalizing a program like this, which is amazing, brings in a lot of new players but we're limited to how many players we have and that means varying skill ranges."

This is how it works. The NJCAAE has three separate tiers of play. The Premier Series (T1), Contender Series (T2) and Open Series (T3).

You must be a Jackson College student, be enrolled in 12 credits and a 2.0 GPA to compete in T1 or T2. Anyone can participate in the open series as long as you have a Jackson College e-mail.

T1 participants at Jackson College must practice at least three times a week for two hours and have a match day whereas in T3 you make your own schedule and practice however much they want. The games are not mandatory each week.

T1 has a 7-game regular season (or 14 for select games) and then after the season it goes to playoffs and the teams get seeded from the regular season play and its single elimination until there is a winner.

T3 is the same for playoffs but during the season you choose to activate your team each week if you are going to play and you only must play 2 games to make it to the playoffs.

"There's competition for all levels," Bigos said. "So, if you want to be really serious and be in a tight-knit group, play in tier one. If you just want to learn how to play or have other commitments where you can't be here all the time, they have that option at tier three. As long as the Hangar is open you can come in if you are a team member and be able to practice or participate."

If you are interested in being part of the esports team you can fill out information on Jackson College's Athletics Page which sends an e-mail to Andrew. He will get back with you and the coaches will figure out when to get you on the team.

"Everyone's schedule is busy so we also play fall league and spring league, so if you're like 'I can only do one or the other' or you want to do both that's all available," he said. "There's also scholarships available for the top players and there's opportunities to lead and being a team captain which is like a coach for the team to be in charge of making sure the team shows up on time and is ready for the week and activated for the week so you can play your matches."

The esports arena is located inside the Jets Hangar on Central Campus.

Are you ready to level up your gaming skills? Join Jackson College's esports team led by coach Andrew Bigos,