No physical contact? No problem for Lambton esports

Fire science student Zach Hudson tests out one of the gaming stations at Lambton College’s eSports Arena. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

At least one sport is ready to return this fall relatively unscathed by the pandemic.

Lambton College’s esports teams resumes play in the Collegiate Star League in September, even as Ontario colleges postpones the start of more traditional sports.

“Esports is fine,” said program co-ordinator Matthew Hutchinson. “That’s where esports kind of has the advantage right now. It’s still offering our students a way to compete.”

Entering its third season, Lambton’s esports teams compete in six titles, including Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League.

In response to COVID-19, the college’s esports arena is being modified to expand the space beyond the glass-enclosed section and into the student lounge, allowing players to maintain a safe physical distance.

In theory, Lambton’s esports teams could “absolutely” operate entirely off-campus, Hutchinson noted. The school’s high-end gaming computers are an asset for some players, but other varsity team members have built their own systems capable of running the graphics-intensive games.

Hutchinson said because of the pandemic, traditional sports leagues like MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL are entering the digital realm and pitting their athletes against some of the world’s top gamers.

For example, NASCAR and F1 presented some of their drivers in FORZA, a driving simulator popular on XBOX, Hutchinson said.

“(Esports) didn’t really have that exposure within the traditional sport demographic before, and now it’s just kind of blowing up because COVID has provided this opportunity.”

Lambton’s esports athletes even competed against varsity baseball and basketball players last year.

“We do a lot of crossover between our varsity teams,” Hutchinson said. “And it’s really cool because obviously that’s a great bonding experience. We’ll definitely be looking to do some more of that in the future.”

In 2018, in a NHL20 club tournament, two Sarnia Sting players faced off against esports students on the big screen at Progressive Auto Sales Arena following an OHL game.

It didn’t end well for the hockey players, who were beaten 7-1 and 8-0 in the two matches, Hutchinson said.

Tryouts for Lambton’s esports teams are scheduled for Sept. 14.