This Article was contributed by Matthew Carrico, Editorial Intern.

Back in March of 2020, the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida saw a small impact on their student’s thanks to esports. Back then, the college already had programs such as majors for Virtual Reality Development and Game Art Design as well as video game clubs that helped to foster the student’s interest in video games in a more casual environment. However, the esports scene would soon bring new opportunities for campus life thanks to members of the campus.

In March 2020, E Ramey, who is part of the department specializing in wellness and recreation for the campus, took notice of the student’s growing interest in collegiate esports. With this in mind, he contacted and landed a partnership with Mission Control, a company based in St. Louis, Missouri whose mission is to gather and grow communities through the medium of recreational esports. Mission Control has a track record for organizing and creating digital social experiences through popular games such as FIFA, Fortnite, and others. With their resources, they give organizers the ability to host recreational leagues in a similar way to varsity softball or volleyball but for esports.

Both Ringling and Mission Control’s plans were unfortunately halted when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States. But thanks to Mission Control, the students were able to keep in touch throughout the pandemic as well as give students the ability to join the school’s various esports teams. Some examples of students, which also consist of their in-game names, impacted by this include Isaiah ‘OneDaySale’, Katie ‘Unixx’ Vautrindt, Zach ‘SonOfAtlas’, and Hanz ‘RawSauce’ Ago.

In order to make this vision a reality, E Ramey had to find out what games the students were interested in which he described as a difficult process but not as difficult as the recruitment process since some of the games Mission Control hosted on their app did not particularly interest the students. Thankfully, Nick ‘FlowStateGG’ DeAngelis found out about Ringling through college recruiters and would help Ramey in creating the esports teams. Ramey has only had experience with the college’s soccer team but DeAngelis not only had experience as a professional esports player but also as a coach with education in coaching and sports psychology. With their combined efforts, Ringling now has varsity esports teams with mediums in Overwatch, League of Legends, and Super Smash Brothers.

 Due to the pandemic, not every game was able to make a good transition mainly due to different regulations such as Super Smash Brothers who at that point only had in-person practice matches. This is coupled with the new regulations set forth by the pandemic including social distancing, mask requirements, and anti-bacterial cleansing. In short, Super Smash Brothers was not able to translate as well as other games. Hanz Ango, an avid Super Smash Brothers player, explains that the reason the transition for Super Smash Brothers was difficult was because the NAT type WiFi used by Ringling was not compatible with Nintendo Switch servers. Regardless, that did not stop them from making it a reality.

Emails for students in the Spring semester of 2020 came attached with a link to a Discord for students to communicate and offered more gaming options such as Rocket League and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The games that took the most interest in students were Super Smash Brothers, Overwatch, and League of Legends and thus were the first varsity teams assembled. Each team had a student acting as a coach for that specific game. Hanz handled Super Smash Brothers, Zach was put in charge of Overwatch who also created a Discord server with the goal of reaching out to incoming freshmen with an interest in esports. 

Speaking more about the Overwatch team. Recently many members of the team managed to play some games with interested incoming freshmen on April 10, 2021. The Overwatch team now has an official name along with logos and posters. The Ringling Rollers come courtesy of DPS player Konrad ‘Muffincannon’ Losiak. The team also has jerseys now and can be viewed on this Facebook post.

It took an incredible amount of teamwork to get the new esports team to where they are now. Coach Nick recommends for colleges to keep an open mind about the opportunities that esports has despite not being around for as long as traditional sports. This mindset is key for any campus interested in creating or adding on to existing esports elements. Ramey is in agreement but also brings forth to mind the importance of the students. They are, after all, “the driving force for making esports happen” in Ramey’s words. It is important to remember that esports is a vastly different medium to the video games we probably grew up with but the students are the ones who have the knowledge to help improve the aspects of esports.

This story demonstrates how esports also helped transform a college specializing in specific fields and expanding upon them. Ringling offers incredible lessons on what it takes to make a fully-realized esports program happen for all colleges and universities. Currently, the college is still feeling the impacts of the pandemic but things are looking up. The Super Smash Brothers team now has a fully dedicated Twitch and Youtube channel used for streaming. The Overwatch team has also expressed interest in establishing a game room with computers meant to run some of the best games. The esports teams at Ringling are still continuing to grow with the prospect of adding more in the future. To learn more about this story, check out this article as it offers more details into this inspirational impact.