Tallahassee Community College is joining hundreds of other schools by adding a team in a rapidly growing sports space — esports.
Freshman Mason Simmons, a Pennsylvania native majoring in accounting and TCC Esports team member, has been exposed to video games ever since childhood.
“As early as I could remember, video games were all around me,” Simmons, 24, said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the TCC Lifetime Sports Complex’s new esports venue on campus Monday. “With Super Smash Bros, which is what I’m on the team for, I’ve been playing it since I was like 5.”
The heightened popularity of esports — short for electronic sports — comes along with the increased accessibility of competitive gaming, which gives people the chance to live-stream video games using platforms such as YouTube and Twitch from the comfort of their home and across college campuses.
An esports world championship final in 2021 drew more than 73 million viewers, according to Statista, which is substantially more than the 16.5 million viewers for game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2021.
TCC’s team plays on the national level through the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Each event involves a video game competition between two teams in the form of a round-robin tournament, where each competitor plays against every other opponent.
During what will be seven weeks of games and two weeks of playoffs, TCC’s 17-member team will compete against players in five video games: Vanguard, which is a series of the shooter game Call of Duty; Rocket League, a vehicular soccer game; Super Smash Bros, a fighting game; Warzone, a survival game; and Mario Kart, a racing game.
Besides TCC, Florida Gateway College in Lake City is the only other NJCAA Esports member in Florida, and there are 205 community colleges in total with esports programs that compete in the national association.
“NJCAA recognizes esports as a national championship, so this is a great avenue,” TCC Athletics Director Chuck Moore said. “The members may not be competing on the basketball court, but they’re competing in something they love, and that’s what this school’s about — fostering people’s abilities and talents.”
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The esports team kicked off its inaugural season at TCC on Monday. The team was scheduled to play Vanguard at 6 p.m. and Rocket League at 7 p.m. against Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to play for this team,” said esports team captain and sophomore Zachary Yacalavitch, a 20-year-old Tallahassee native. “We’ve been waiting like a whole semester to have three Rocket League video game players added to our team, so I’m excited that I get to compete for TCC and possibly make it all the way to the end.”
While Florida State and Florida A&M universities have video gaming clubs, they are considered student-run organizations and do not have teams linked to their athletics departments.
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TCC esports coach Mark Cornett launched a video gaming club in 2020 to engage with students remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s excited to see it progress from being a club to being an NJCAA team.
“It’s important to recognize not only traditional athletics, but new and upcoming athletics as well,” Cornett said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I think this is going to be a really good step in the right direction.”
Some of the requirements that TCC’s e-sports members need to meet to be eligible for NJCAA athletics include being a full-time student and having at least a 2.0 grade point average.
The team holds at least one in-person practice a week and meets virtually multiple times a week to prepare for upcoming tournaments.
“I like playing video games, but I’ve never done it competitively,” said TCC freshman Camrien Araque. She’s been playing for about 14 years and is a Mario Kart video game player on the team. “This is my first time ever doing something like this, so I think it’s really exciting.”
After Monday’s tournaments, the esports team will continue the rest of its season with more games on Wednesday, including Mario Kart. The tournaments are open to the public to watch in person at the Lifetime Sports Complex on TCC’s campus or virtually by using the platform Twitch.
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