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Penn College esports program builds for future

The COVID-19 pandemic took a bite out of the competitive aspect of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s first esports season, but progress was made and coach Joshua Young is optimistic about the future.

Last fall, team organization and planning took place on campus for the competitive multiplayer video gaming enthusiasts. Then, during the winter break, Young spent much of his time on weekends and nights putting together the Wildcat Den: Room 203A in Madigan Library, which was converted into an esports facility and includes 14 high-end gaming computers for competition along with a streaming station that allows matches to be viewed online by spectators.

Penn College esports competitors joined the action this spring in the Wildcat Den, an esports facility in Madigan Library. (Photo provided)
Penn College esports competitors joined the action this spring in the Wildcat Den, an esports facility in Madigan Library. (Photo provided)

The project was financed with the help of a state grant for new initiatives.

The Penn College program operates through the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the governing body for collegiate esports, of which Young is a board member. The nonprofit association began in 2016 with six schools and now has more than 170 members with more than 5,000 players who compete for $16 million on the line in the form of esports scholarships and aid, according to the NACE website.

“It’s going to become a mainstay in about two to three years,” Young said. “You will see pretty much every collegiate campus have some level of esports.”

Penn College has 44 players, 28 of whom are starters. They include (by event):

Rocket League — Alex Hackenberg, of Middleburg; Caleb Barackman, of Weedville; and Bobby Placido, of West Chester.

League of Legends — Jasaiah Capps, of Shamokin; Justin Yesalavage, of Mahanoy City; Jackson Howey, of Williamsport; Matt Turner, of Bedford; and Michael Ord, of Landisville.

Smite — Matt Walter, of Beavertown; Logan Smeltz, of Tower City; John Goetze, of Lebanon; William Tish, of Adamsville, Ohio; and Maxim Tsoy, of Lansdale.

Apex Legends — Stewart Majewsky, of Houtzdale; Reed Corby, of Tunkhannock; and John Hammeke, of Jenkintown.

Overwatch — Dakota Hart, of Shamokin; William Kohen, of Jersey Shore; Michael Hagerstrom, of Lancaster; Jared Patten, of South Abington Township; Caleb Goss, of Middleburg; and Nicholas Leon, of West Chester.

Hearthstone — Nicholas Snyder, of Sunbury; Blaine Farren, of Emporium; and Dillon West, of Bethlehem.

Fortnite — Tyler Colangelo, of New Castle, Delaware, and Brendan Martin, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

iRacing — Joe Lusk, of Linden.

Rocket League players compete in three-on-three matches, League of Legends and Smite are five-on-five strategy games, Apex Legends is a three-person team, Overwatch is a six-person team, Hearthstone usually is a single-player card game and Fortnite either can be played by singles or duos, which is where Penn College’s Colangelo and Martin excelled and were ranked fourth among 49 teams in the nation this spring before action was halted by the coronavirus. iRacing is a virtual racing event, Young said, noting that the college has multiple teams in Overwatch, Apex Legends and Rocket League, although only one team plays at the top tier in each event.

“The projections are that they (Colangelo and Martin ) would have made it to the finals at DreamHack in Atlanta, Georgia, at the end of April. I think the overall prize was $25,000,” Young said.

Each of the games has a fall and spring season, with League of Legends and Overwatch being the two most popular. Rankings take place in the fall with classifications used during the spring. Penn College is in the silver classification, which is middle-of-the-road, Young said. The top 32 teams in the country are in the platinum category, and three of them are from Pennsylvania Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Lebanon Valley College and Juniata College.

Before the spring season started, Penn College was one of 18 schools competing in the PA Cup at Harrisburg where its Overwatch team placed fourth.

“It was awesome because our Wildcat Den was just finished and we used it for the first weekend in the PA Cup. The first week we played matches, we went up against Penn State main campus and won, and we beat Kutztown University and Temple to make it to the finals,” Young said. “We didn’t fare very well at the finals, but this was their first time playing live in front of an audience and their nerves got to them a little bit. But just for us to jump in with a new facility they had never used those computers and we were able to be one of the top four schools in the state was just awesome.”

With Young’s encouragement, his players will continue working together over the summer in preparation for the fall semester.

“Everything is going to be done remotely, so that will make everything easier for us during the fall not knowing what is going to happen,” Young said. “The group jelled together very quickly and figured things out. I’m really just looking forward to the fall where we can build on what we started.

“That little pause with the COVID just put a wrench in everything and it’s unfortunate because we did have such a good thing going. It would have been awesome to be able to say that Penn College, in year one of their program, had a championship in something, which was almost the case with our Fortnite team.”

For more about NEAC, visit the conference website.

For more information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.

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