BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Previously, KX News has met with Bismarck State College’s Esports (competitive video gaming) team members and coaches to discuss the schools’ participation in the collegiate pro league. Previously, we spoke to members of BSC’s Rocket League team regarding their qualification to participate in the game’s national invitation tournament — and now, more members of the college’s gaming guilds have reached similar milestones in their own Esports of choice.

We’ve discussed before that much like physical sports, Esports have their own professional leagues — and that extends to collegiate Esports, too. The National Junior College Athletic Association’s Esports Division (NJCAAE) extends to all sorts of video games, including Rocket League (soccer with cars), the latest FIFA sports, single-player fighter Super Smash Brothers, and team-based games like League of Legends and Overwatch. We spoke to BSC players in two different games about their experiences in the Esports program, and how they felt going into and coming out of their latest trips to the championships.

Super Smash Brothers, a fighting game that pits some of the world’s most famous video game characters against each other in no-holds-barred combat, is generally seen as a fun party brawler for many — but ever since the franchises’ origins, there has been a competitive tournament scene for it. This has spilled over to the NJCAAE, who host their own championship — and in this year’s competition, one BSC student represented the Mystics in just such a competition.

X’Avier Vincent, also known by his username ‘GrootLoops’, started the Spring 2023 season on a tear, with a 7-0 winning streak against all of his opponents. What was originally a hobby, he says, has branched out into a competitive sport that tends to be much more based on skill and speed than the chaotic atmosphere that Smash Bros. is known for.

“In a friend group, Smash has a lot of rules,” explains Vincent. “There are a lot of different items you can play with, and with friends, you generally play in groups of four or more. But in Esports, it’s usually just one-on-one, without any items or stage hazards, so it’s entirely dependent on the players’ skill levels.”

As is true for anything that requires precise movements, many Esports players need to undergo training regimens in order to learn the best way to play — and while he doesn’t need to focus on team play, Vincent notes that there’s still plenty of practice to be done, especially in a game that focuses on quick responses and a character’s special powers.

“I play Smash weekly, but for Esports, I definitely need to play a lot more and practice. There are a ton of characters in Super Smash Bros, and I used to just choose whoever I felt like that day — but for Esports, I had to stick with one or two characters and practice with them more often. There’s a lot of characters, so you have to know a lot about them, and how to fight against them.”

Although there is no official venue where many Esports games take place (especially outside of world championships), viewers can still watch these matches on streaming websites like the BSC Esports Program’s Twitch or Youtube Channels. This means that even from the comfort of the Esports room, players — including X’Avier — can still feel the pressure of playing with an audience.

“It’s a little bit stressful,” Vincent states, “because you have to know your best and be prepared for anything. Just going through all the matches and trying hard can be tough. It’s still pretty exciting, though — I’ve had a lot of games where we’re neck and neck, at our last lives, and both at high damage, so I can hear my heart pounding because whoever gets the next hit will win the game.”

In the end, while X’Avier was successful in making it to the championship, he was eventually eliminated in the fourth round of the tournament. When all is said and done, even though the competitive side of Smash turns a party game into a more serious affair, Vincent still sees it as a great way to meet others who enjoy the same games as you and improve your skills.

“Esports is really interesting,” states Vincent. “It’s definitely a new type of sport. I’d say it’s very fun, and definitely a good way to get into your favorite games more, as well as be around other people who enjoy it. If you have a game you like and other people are into it, it’s a great way to take your gameplay to the next level. Joining Esports definitely gives you a greater appreciation for the games you love, and helps you become a lot better at them, too.”

Smash Bros. isn’t the only game that BSC’s teams have been doing well with, however — the players of the popular team-based shooting game Overwatch have also seen tournament success. As it takes a team to play, it also takes more than one member of the group to speak on the training and competitive nature of the game.

Unlike Smash Bros., Overwatch is primarily played in five-person teams, and BSC features its own quintet of team members who recently earned a place in the championships. It’s been a long road, but the Mystics OW team made it to the playoffs of the NJCAAE through training and teamwork.

“I got into Overwatch when I first started playing it with my cousin back in 2018 on the XBOX,” recalls team member Garrett Byerley/’gdcomplex’. “When I noticed BSC had an Esports team, I hopped right in.”

“We started off pretty low,” explains fellow BSC player Braxton Nicholes/’Sttay Hydrated’, “but we played a lot better as a team, and grew really strong. We had a long undefeated streak until we got to the finals.”

Training for a game like Overwatch is entirely different than one such as Super Smash Bros, primarily due to the team focus. Unlike competitive Smash, learning how to work as a team and take advantage of one another’s powers is the difference between victory and defeat on the battlefield- something that’s reflected in how they practice.

“A lot of our training is simply playing competitively as a team,” Nicholes states, “so we can figure out which combinations work and who plays which roles and characters best.”

“With tournament environments, it’s a huge difference from playing online because there are teammates you have to communicate with,” echoes Byerley. I think the big thing to remember is that in games like this, you can’t play as an individual. We’re playing against people that are probably better than us, but if we work better as a team, we can win.”

And much like X’Avier recalls, there are still tensions and concerns that arise when playing — something that’s especially true in the upper echelons of competitive play.

“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but you kind of have to take it like any other game,” explains Nicholes. “I really enjoyed the feeling. A bit stressful at first, but after a while, I got used to it, and I had a lot of fun getting to play with my team.”

“I think the nerves are definitely there, just like any other sport,” states Byerley. “I played basketball in high school, and you can get the same feelings from time to time, especially going up against someone better. But there’s still the fun aspect- you’re playing with these people, your friends, for the entire semester. You wouldn’t be playing otherwise.”

But despite the nerve-wracking gameplay at times, it’s clear that Esports plays a major part in the lives of these students — and win or lose, nothing can take that away from them. The BSC Overwatch team lost in the playoff game, but we’re hoping that next season, they go even further!

To learn more about BSC’s Esports program, visit this page on the college’s website.