Unlike the seemingly continuous stream of event cancellations and postponements like Coachella, E3 and GDC to name a few, esports at USC are holding steady during the rapidly evolving college coronavirus culture, as most events, save LANs and socials, are already online. While the USC Esports Union (ESU) is upholding university policy and cancelling any remaining in-person events, General Manager Arnold Ha said, ”Games are a great platform to start showing people how you can build communities online.”
Video games have facilitated online bonds for years with massive communities coalescing without any need for physical proximity. Swaths of people across the world’s digital networks have created a culture that’s essentially immune to external calamities like the coronavirus.
“We want to show that we can build an online community, and that we can do as much as we do in person online as well. Whether it's streaming, whether it's Discord, we can build the same type of social gathering,” said Ha.
The USC Varsity League of Legends team’s AD Carry, Brandon “Gunning” Gunning is heading home for a while but said that “It [coronavirus] doesn’t affect us too much considering we can just move practices remote, and most leagues are online so things are expected to go on as usual for the time being.”
Varsity Overwatch is in the same boat. Coach Nathan “Natter” Pitchaikani said everything will continue according to the schedule. This weekend, they’ll be going into the fourth round of the Tespa tournament in first place with a 3-0 record, not losing a single map so far this season.
Some teams didn’t make it out totally unscathed, however, as USC Smash Club had to cancel this Friday’s bi-weekly tournament.
To adjust for the cancellation of in-person events, ESU is in talks about putting together a stream for the community to watch intramural casual gameplay, as well as possibly hosting a tournament to keep members engaged.
“We'll also be doing Discord as well, so that we can make sure that during the event, if you want to hop in and talk to one of us or play a game, you have that opportunity to do that,” said Ha.
Some members of the USC Esports Discord server see how they may have some more time to game now that classes are online.
“I’m about to game all day as soon as I finish this paper for my music law class,” said Nick Calahan, a music industry major at USC.
Iggnatius “Fanout” Mullin of the Varsity Overwatch team, however, will not be playing more video games.
“I’m not bringing my PC home and I would rather die than play on 60hz,” he said, referring to his computer monitor’s refresh rate.
Ha noticed that a lot of the innate features of the video game community’s communication methods are becoming relevant in a socially distanced society.
“We do a lot of streaming, we do a lot of online stuff, but how can we show that we can use our knowledge to help out?” he said.
It’s a pivotal time for the future of not only education, but greater human interaction as well. We’ll be watching to see how the video game community’s communication practices will emerge in the context of the Internet’s larger forums.
Nisha Venkat also contributed to this report.