When Vishal Naik, a sophomore Mathematics major, joined the Montclair State University community during the pandemic, he knew the ideal college social life wouldn’t be the same over Zoom.
After hearing one of his classmates mention the University’s Esports Association, also known as the Cyber Hawks, Naik decided to check it out since he had an interest in gaming.
“Because I came into [Montclair] in the pandemic, I was kind of a little bit lost. I didn’t know anyone; it was all online. It was really hard to get to know people personally, and joining the esports discord really helped,” Naik says.
Naik is on the e-board of the Esports Association as treasurer and keeps track of all financial spending for sponsorships and events. As a result of the pandemic, the student-created Esports Association has rapidly expanded since its launch in 2019. Players have the opportunity to compete in leagues or tournaments and attend social events where they can bond over their gaming interests.
“I made so many new friends and it’s helped my mental health just being in the discord and talking to people, and every Friday we’ll have a game night. Sometimes we could go all night, like 2, 3 in the morning, but it’s helped my mental health to at least keep me sane during the pandemic,” Naik says.
Marketing Professor Jack Samuels, an expert on entertainment, leisure and gaming, says the gaming industry and esports have been an engaging distraction for many at home.
“There’s been a lot of shifting in leisure activities and everything else because of the pandemic. And esports has certainly been fueled or pumped up a bit,” Samuels says. “You can do it in your house. You can get involved in competitions and make some prize money on some of these games, even online. Of course, the big money is becoming sort of a superstar and appearing at these huge tournaments.”
Esports and online gaming have become so popular that the University now offers a certificate in Game Development.
“We decided to add the Game Development certificate because it was something that students have been asking for,” says Computer Science Department Chairperson Constantine Coutras.
When the shutdown took place in March 2020 and people were stuck at home, Montclair’s Esports Association saw an increase in student involvement. Senior Psychology major Austin McGuire is the association’s vice president and is in charge of building teams and connecting those teams to leagues and tournaments.
“Our numbers have increased a lot since we were lucky enough that we’re one of the few clubs that can go straight online,” says McGuire, adding that a lot of freshmen found the club because it was one of the few meetings online. “They saw us because we were one of the few that were continuously doing emails because we didn’t have any in-person presence.”
The rise in esports has also sparked an interest for those who have a competitive drive. For sophomore Mathematics major Josue Colon, being part of the Cyber Hawks allows him to compete in video games he enjoys playing.
“I was a really competitive person growing up, and I got hurt in middle school and that was the transition into going to high school sports. And because of that, I wasn’t able to play so I ended up just playing video games all the time,” Colon recalls. “During the pandemic, when esports really rose, it became more mainstream and I was able to meet other people with the same goal of ‘I want to get better at a game and we can all play it together and have fun.’ ”
The growing popularity of esports has led non-players to watch others compete. On streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch, more and more people spent their lockdown days watching, like fans cheering for their favorite teams in the Super Bowl.
As broadcast manager of the Esports Association, Colon is in charge of streaming games on Twitch, which primarily pays for different video games. The Esports Association keeps track of the association’s streaming views, and they have noticed a large increase in participation – both in playing and simply viewing.
“Our numbers went up a lot, and it was pretty interesting to see, which gives me hope that there are a lot of things to do in esports just in general,” McGuire says.
Naik believes that the popularity of esports will continue to grow in the future and that is a silver lining of the pandemic.
“I think it’s gonna keep on going even when the pandemic starts to die down. I think we’re still going to be impacted very positively because [the pandemic] helped us out a lot with growth, and we wouldn’t be as big without it,” Naik says.
To join or learn more about the Esports Association, visit its web page.
Story by Communications and Marketing Intern Rosaria Lo Presti. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters, unless otherwise noted.
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