Two basketball players square up as their teammates position themselves on the court prepared to help. With time winding down the player with the ball plants his foot and sinks a fadeaway three-point shot as the crowd goes wild.
However, those cheers aren’t coming from real fans, but rather virtual simulations and the players aren’t on the same court at all but rather in their homes playing with controllers, competing in Westlake Recreation Department’s first eSports tournament.
“With the pandemic still going on, we wanted to offer a way for students to compete and stay active with their friends,” said Athletic Special Events Coordinator Rakayla Iwais.
The tournament, which took place last week, centered around the popular sports game NBA 2k20 by company Visual Concepts. The multiplayer game puts the player in the shoes of their favorite players and gives control of their teams.
Consisting of 15 players in grades 7-12, the tournament was split into two console brackets for the PS4 and Xbox One. Each contestant plays at home and self-records the scores for each game and reports them back to Iwais. By the end of the week, Westlake High School students Magnus Garlauskas and Aidan Sharak were crowned.
The city put on the tournament as a way to offer teens a way to connect and hang out while at home during the pandemic. Iwais also wanted to provide a way for youths who normally wouldn’t go to the basketball court a chance to do so virtually.
“This is a great alternative to playing basketball on our courts,” Iwais said. “We really wanted those kids who may not be playing a physical sport to still do so in some manner.”
eSports has seen a rapid growth of popularity in the past few years with younger audiences. In 2018, there were an estimated 380 million eSports viewers. In 2021 it’s projected the audience will grow to 557 million viewers internationally according to a report done by Newzoo, a company dedicated to videogame analytics.
The sport has become so popular that colleges across the nation have begun offering scholarships to play games. Locally, colleges like Kent State University and Ashland University have begun to offer scholarships as well.
On the West Shore, eSports teams have also made their mark. School Districts such as Westlake and Rocky River all have eSports teams for games like Counter-Strike Global Offence (CS. GO). Last year, Rocky River’s team placed fourth in the High School eSports League, which is composed of more than 1,000 teams.
“This is a lot more competitive than people think,” Garlauskas said. “People think this is not a job you could get but people are making millions from this.”
Iwais says the city plans to hold at least two more tournaments in May. While sports games like NBA 2k20 will be considered, the city is also looking into battle royale games like Fortnite and first-person shooters like Call of Duty for variety. The hope is to create a larger tournament in the fall open to everyone on the West Shore.
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