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Staying in the game: University of North Georgia intramural department rolls out new esports opportunities amidst COVID-19 campus closings
University of North Georgia student Colin Crockett participates in a UNG esports intramural league this week. Photo by Rob Kelly

With college campuses shut down for the remainder of the school year, the University of North Georgia intramural sports department has found a creative way to continue operations. Traditional team sports could not continue while still adhering to appropriate social distancing measures, but new esports leagues have kept the social and competitive spirit of UNG intramurals alive and well throughout the campus closings. 

“We just wanted to give the students something to have in this crazy time,” said Tyler Hobby, intramural sports and sports club coordinator for the UNG Gainesville campus. “No one has ever really seen anything like this before. We just wanted to be able to offer them something to do that was different than just school.”

The school is offering leagues for Rocket League, FIFA 20, NBA 2K20, Madden 20 and MLB The Show, opening up participation to students across all five of UNG’s campuses. 

Rob Kelly, intramural sports and sports club coordinator for the Dahlonega campus, said the intramural department has dabbled in esports over the past couple of years, but has never gone as far as providing anything as organized as the multi week leagues now in place. 

Participants in esports leagues are given opponent contact information at the beginning of the week and are held responsible for setting up and playing games and reporting scores by Friday. The system has worked well for UNG students so far as they navigate schedules that have been drastically altered by distance learning. 

“It allows students to really be flexible when they play,” Kelly said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we have people playing against each other at midnight or if we have people playing against each other at 10 o’clock in the morning.”

UNG will also be offering a larger scale tournament on Friday, April 24, where students will compete in 64-person brackets in Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. 

The school has hired an esports event company to conduct the tournament and make it feel like the real deal for participating UNG students.

“They’ll be streaming the tournament bracket,” Kelly said. “They have a commentator who kind of explains rules and just adds various information throughout the contest. I think it will add a little bit more of a professional feel to it.”

Timothy Baldwin, president of the UNG esports club, said he’s been pleased to see esports take on a more mainstream role across UNG campuses. 

“I think it opens up peoples eyes to see how connected eSports can make people in different groups,” he said. “You’re still being able to talk to other people and have that interaction even while everybody is stuck at home and not able to leave. I think it’s beneficial for just showing people what esports can bring to the table.” 

With people around the world stuck in their homes, esports, and video games in general, have become a means by which many have kept themselves sane and entertained.

By rolling out expanded esports opportunities during school closings, UNG has embraced the role gaming has come to play in many of its students’ lives.

“I would have gone crazy if I didn’t have different esports stuff and different games,” Baldwin said. “Otherwise I’d be sitting here probably just watching Tiger King on repeat or something like that. I think the competitive aspect and the satisfaction of winning really helps and really keeps people busy and not really focusing on what’s going on outside. It kind of gives people a way out.”