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Esports team kicks off first season, builds relationships with students during virtual learning

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, a group of students completing their semester online found a way to bring a little piece of Randolph back into their lives.

Led by Esports Head Coach Jordan Oliver, they worked to recreate the College’s campus inside Minecraft, a world-building video game.

The build began as a class project for Shenandoah University’s esports major but soon evolved into a friendly competition, where students from other Virginia colleges and universities created their own virtual campuses.

It became a way for them to stay connected to their respective schools when they couldn’t be together in person.

“It is amazing to see and talk with each other about what places we each remember most vividly,” Oliver said at the time. “You realize that this second home has different nuances that we each hold dear. You have this overall picture of Randolph in your mind and rely on each other to fill in the blanks. We easily spent more time reminiscing than we did building.”

The esports team, which began its first official season in September, maintained those connections among students as online learning continued into the fall semester.

Thirty students signed intent to compete forms for the fall and spring seasons, Oliver said, and about half played this fall in the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) league.

They also found time to play together outside of practices and competitions.

“Most of us know each other very well. We like hanging out together,” said Jaylan Thompson ’22, who competed in one of the team’s fall tournaments. “For all of us, it’s a time to unwind. After practice, it’s like, ‘OK, time to do some more homework.’”

Jennifer Moore ’23, who also competed this fall, said she met classmates she might not have otherwise and bonded with them during hours of gameplay.

“It’s fun. We’re just playing together, making jokes and laughing,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t talk to them for hours on the phone, but you do while playing.”

NACE offered a variety of games for the fall season, but deferred some of the more popular titles—such as Fortnite, NBA 2K, and Madden NFL—to the spring.

“They’re hoping we’ll be in a better situation, and back on campus, by then,” Oliver said. “There are certain rules and benchmarks you have to meet, as far as the console you’re using and quality of the internet.”

Once the students return to campus, they will be able to take advantage of the new arena, a first-floor lounge space in Bell Hall that was converted with help from a Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges grant.

Randolph fielded two teams in the NACE league—one for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a series of video games published by Nintendo, and the other VALORANT, a multiplayer game. The College also had one team that competed in a Fortnite fall tournament through PlayVs, another scholastic league.

Oliver sent LAN adapters, which increase internet speed and bandwidth, to students playing Super Smash Bros., and said Nintendo made upgrades to its system to accommodate gamers playing from home.

The team has had to be creative with practices, meeting virtually and staying in touch as often as possible.

“We’re running everything through the Discord chat app, so any time, day or night, the students can contact me, and they do,” Oliver said. “Typically, gamers have that late-night mentality. We’re just being really flexible.”

In addition to the official fall competitions, Oliver teamed up with other departments on campus for special events, including a Rocket League Championship during WildCat Weekend in September and monthly tournaments with the Randolph Programming Board.

“We have a few people who are there no matter what, and then we get different people depending on the game,” Oliver said. “I really think we’ll be able to tailor it to capture a bigger group of students. This helps them know there’s something for them.”

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