A New Way to Play: The World of Esports at JWU

Nolan Badore practices with his team at the JWU Esports Center.

Eat, sleep, play. Go to class, work, play. Practice with the team, play. Then do it all over again. Welcome to the world of esports at JWU.

Gamers are living their best lives on campus right now. They’ve always been here, playing from their rooms. But starting in the fall of 2019 they have had access to 1,588 square-foot Esports Center, where more than 60 official team members play for 14 different teams, across 10 different games including League of Legends, Overwatch and Smash Bros. There, they meet up for casual games, team practice and competitive tournaments.

“I play Overwatch way more than I practice with the team,” says Nolan “Shinobu” Badore '21, a Graphic Design major, captain and primary DPS for Overwatch Blue, one of the JWU teams. “We seriously practice the game a minimum of six hours a week, that is three practices. And then outside of that, including games and times that I play with the team just for fun, I’d say five hours or more a day, every day.” That’s a lot of hours, and for Badore the more the better.

Nolan Badore is ranked as a High Master in Overwatch.

Nolan Badore.

“I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. That’s sort of a similar story for a lot of people here; it’s like we’ve just always been playing,” he says. When Overwatch came out in 2016, he had been playing other competitive games like Call of Duty, but he was getting tired of the style. “When Overwatch came out it really grabbed my attention because it wasn’t your normal military simulation game. It’s really bright and colorful, and also really engaging and competitive-focused.”

Breaking down the game quickly, Badore points out that teams play 6v6 in combat, with heroes playing one of three roles: tank, damage (DPS) or support. Ultimately, he says, the main objective is to capture the payload maps in a predetermined amount of time. He started out playing tank, the players in charge of holding the frontline and creating space for the damage dealers. As his skills and rankings improved, he transitioned to the DPS role and when he found out that JWU was going to start a competitive esports team, his outlook toward the game became more serious.

“This was the game that me and my friends played and we had fun, I even made YouTube videos of me streaming,” he adds. “But once JWU esports was announced, I decided I was going to really take it seriously and put in the time and effort to become better. I really grinded, and hit Masters [rank] not too long ago. I’ve pushed through Masters all the way up to the 3,900 mark, which is High Masters. And that’s far exceeded my goal.”

Rankings are extremely important in competitive Overwatch. Players are ranked in one of seven ways:

  • Bronze: 1,500
  • Silver: 1,500-1,999
  • Gold: 2,000-2,999
  • Platinum: 2,500-2,900
  • Diamond: 3,000-3,499
  • Masters: 3,500-3,999
  • Grandmaster: 4,000 and up

Kaley “Sertle” Frye '21, a Marketing major and support for Overwatch Blue, knows all about what it means to take the game seriously. She recently moved up the ranks to become a Grandmaster.

Kaley Frye recently become a Grandmaster in Overwatch.

“I actually just achieved that [in February], so I’m so relieved that I’ve done it,” says Frye. “I’ve played the game for four years, I was bound to do it eventually. And it’s really, really difficult, but I'm super happy that I did it, you know, it's a big achievement for me.”

Playing Overwatch has had a huge impact in Frye’s life. For starters, it’s how she met Badore and ended up becoming a JWU student. “I’m from Illinois, and I actually came to this school because I met Nolan online playing Overwatch,” she says. “The thing that kind of brought me to where I am is now even more relevant in my life than it ever was. I came to visit Nolan because I didn’t really have too many friends in Illinois, and when I came here it was like, ‘oh my God all my friends are here,’ so I just kind of transferred. So then for the [JWU] team to start that’s just like, wow, you know.”

Frye, just like Badore, plays the game every day for hours and she feels she’s improved greatly since coming to JWU. “I know I’m really good at the game, but I never imagined that I would be in a situation where I would play on a team. I’m super introverted and I wouldn’t really put myself out there. So, for the team to exist, it feels like I’m not just playing a video game. Playing the game with a team and having the same goals, makes everything great.” And that’s where she has noticed the biggest difference.

Coach Aaron Colaiacomo impressed by the way the teams are performances so far.

According to Coach Aaron Colaiacomo, along with weekly practices, scrimmages and video on demand (VOD) reviews, teams also have meetings where they analyze past performance and strategize for future matches. Depending on the game played, teams attend tournaments such as the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) for esports, the East Regional Conference for College League of Legends (CLOL), the Empire State Winter Games (ESWG), Electronic Sports League (ESL), and TESPA among other collegiate-level competitive events. And Colaiacomo says he’s impressed by their performance so far.

“As a program in its first year, the students are doing incredibly well just overall in competition, especially in games like League of Legends and Overwatch, which bodes really well for the university,” Colaiacomo says adding that team members are quickly climbing through the ranks and improving their game.

Badore agrees, and has seen improvements as team captain for Overwatch. “Since the program started, we've all grown. I think we're all up at least in the range of 500 SRs, which is the skill rating. Which is kind of crazy because [it’s just in the last five months] which is just unbelievable.”

Anna Butcher is co-captain for Overwatch Gold.

Anna Butcher is co-captain for Overwatch Gold.

Anna “Hope” Butcher '20, a Cyber Threat Intelligence & Defense major and co-captain for Overwatch Gold, has noticed that in addition to improving rankings, teams are growing strong in other ways.

“I love our team,” Butcher says. “The thing is, like at the end of the day we’re all students, so the friendships we make, the connections we make — whether it be finding out that some of us like the same animes or some of us like the same foods, or the games we’re playing on our own free time — it’s important, and it’s actually kind of fun.”

Before joining the JWU esports team as captain for League of Legends, Mark “Makujjo” Cruz '21, a Software Engineering major, had been looking for a club to join. He says as soon as he found out JWU was starting a competitive esports club he had to reach out to Coach Colaiacomo. “I was actually the first one to email the coach, even before tryouts. This is the first time for me playing competitively, and I’m very excited about it. The students on the team really get to bond together and they love the game [as much as I do], so it makes it fun.”

Mark Cruz is captain for League of Legends.

Apple captured the feeling the students describe perfectly earlier this year in their commercial to promote their new Apple Arcade service. In the ad, real-life users and gameplay characters are depicted signing Dean Martin’s 1960’s hit song, “Welcome to My World,” where they showcase A New World to Play In.

Follow JWU esports teams on Twitch to catch live streamed games, or on Twitter to get their latest updates.