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eSports thrives during pandemic despite traditional sporting events being cancelled

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 3:40 PM EDT
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - In the last several years, eSports have gained a lot of attention across the globe and here in the region with local high schools introducing eSports teams and programs.

“When I was in high school as well, there wasn’t really any gaming clubs or sports or anything like that, it was kind of just you go home and play video games with your friends after school,” said UPIKE Head eSports Coach Nicholas Alverson. “Now, you go to any high school and they at least have some club aspect there.”

eSports gained the interest of a young generation of gamers throughout the country and throughout Eastern Kentucky when UPIKE’s eSports team started recruiting local players.

“We had a bunch of kids come up afterwards, after everybody went back up to their rooms, they were just asking us individual questions,” said UPIKE League of Legends Team Captain Nicholas Letherbarrow. “It was so cool. It’s not what I expected because I thought nobody would care, but they really did.”

Many young gaming fans grew up with video games at hand, but many are just being introduced as indoor activities were more acceptable during the pandemic. The competitive gaming scene also thrived because it was one of the only COVID-compliant events schools could compete in.

“COVID and everything, you know, how unfortunate, but it’s really kind of put a magnifying glass on eSports and kind of helped us grow,” said Coach Alverson. “It is really the only entertainment/sport that can really thrive in an unfortunate event like that.”

This meant that many of the players, at UPIKE and in local high schools, did not get a break as traditional athletes did.

“We kept on at home, we kept trying to, you know, practice, recruit, and perform,” said Letherbarrow. “We didn’t have the downtime to relax, we still had to do everything we needed to do.”

This persistence throughout the pandemic also bolstered the sport’s popularity and raised hopes that someday eSports would become equal to other traditional sports.

“One day, when it finally happens, it would just be like any other sport. You get recruited, you perform, you get recruited into like the higher-ups and you actually play professionally,” said Letherbarrow. “Making it easy as possible is really the dream because then people don’t have to struggle to make this a profession.”

UPIKE’s eSports team also recently competed and placed second in the Mid-South Conference 2021 Fall Overwatch Tournament. Both Coach Alverson and Letherbarrow are excitedly preparing for the 2022 season beginning in January.

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