When a bunch of gamers sat down Saturday to play Rocket League at Durham College’s esports arena, they weren’t just playing for bragging rights — there was money up for grabs.
Scholarship money, to be exact.
Durham College hosted the Ontario Collegiate Rocket League Finals, the first time ever that collegiate esports athletes in Ontario have played for scholarships.
“A lot of people, especially older people, don’t understand that this is a sport,” says Zachary Bouffard, who coaches Durham College’s Rocket League team.
“I think events like this will help legitimize it. I hope they will.”
About 50 students from a dozen Ontario colleges and universities competed the event, which had $7,000 in scholarship money available.
Scoring scholarships, cash and prizes for playing video games is nothing new to people immersed in the world of competitive gaming, but outsiders are often surprised to learn how popular — and potentially lucrative — esports can be.
In July, Canadian teen Hayden Krueger won $1.2 million when he finished third in the Fortnite World Cup.
Analysts say that the global esports economy is on track to exceed $1.6 billion by 2021.
The weekend tournament took place at Durham College’s new esports arena, which opened in April.
It’s the first of its kind in Canada, and one of the largest in North America.
The 3,000-square-foot space in the student centre at the Oshawa campus, can hold up to 120 spectators and features 46 high-end Lenovo Legion gaming computers — 12 of which sit behind a glass partition, reserved for varsity sports players to train.
Excitement levels were high at the event, which even had live commentators analyzing the action as games were streamed on Twitch.
Rocket League is often described as “car soccer.” Players use rocket-powered vehicles to get the ball into the opponent’s goal.
Durham Lords teammates Dallas Smith and Luke Logan each figure they have logged more than 1,000 hours playing the game, and say there’s still lots of room for improvement.
“It takes a lot of practice to get really good at it. Even after all these hours, there are things I need to get better at,” says Logan, a second-year student at Durham College.
He’s been playing video games since he was 6 and says being at events like the Rocket League finals creates a sense of camaraderie and excitement.
“Even with our headphones on we could hear people cheering for us,” he says.
“People were freaking out about my ceiling shot,” adds Smith, 18, referring to a Rocket League move with some tricky mechanics.
In addition to Rocket League, Durham Lords Esports varsity players compete in Hearthstone, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, CS: GO and Super Smash Bros. Melee.
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“There are so many talented students who play esports and we really want to validate them as student athletes,” says Sarah Wagg, manager of the esports arena at Durham College.
She says the Ontario Collegiate Rocket League Finals did exactly that, by bringing in big name sponsors like TD Canada Trust and offering players the same chance at scholarships that other athletes have.
The goal is to run the tournament again next summer, but with more games and more athletes.