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ESports offer a way to stay connected during the pandemic

BUCKHANNON – While pandemic has limited traditional socialization, some people have found ways to connect using technology, particularly through video games.

Ethan Hayes, the head coach of the West Virginia Wesleyan College eSports team, said the college squad has been competing in Valorant — an online, five-versus-five, character-based first-person shooter game — and other multiplayer during the pandemic.

My Buckhannon recently chatted with Hayes to get his top recommendations for gamers looking to connect online and have some fun in the process. For anyone unfamiliar with ‘gaming,’ eSports is a type of sports competition using video games, often in the form of organized, multiplayer competitions between individuals or teams.

Hayes recommended three games — two competitive and one more relaxed: Valorant, League of Legends and Minecraft.

“We are currently competing in completely online leagues, [and] one of the cool things about eSports is that we were able to not miss a beat and continue playing in the online leagues that are already established,” Hayes said. “When you talk on the computer, you don’t have to worry about social distancing because you were never going to see these people to begin with.”

Valorant allows players to start a game by themselves and fight alongside four random people or compete with friends against another team.

“I really think they’ve enjoyed it the most, because it’s one of the games that we’re competing in,” Hayes said. “They’re getting the opportunity to learn as they go along, and they’ve been practicing just as much as they’ve been playing.”

Another game the Bobcats eSports team has shown interest in is League of Legends, a multiplayer, action-strategy game that is one of the most popular eSport games in the world.

“League of Legends is, of course, the biggest one – as many people watched the League of Legends World Championship last year as the Super Bowl so it’s pretty high on the list,” Hayes said.

The game features two teams of five people, playing different types of champions in order to destroy the other team’s base. Each champion has their own strengths and weaknesses, so teams must determine which characters will work well together to achieve their goal.

“You pick different roles depending on which lane you want to play, so you can be a supporting character that makes sure that your primary damage dealer character doesn’t die,” Hayes said. “Then you could be the primary damage dealing character, and your entire goal is to get as strong as you can, go out and deal the most damage.”

Hayes said the game requires an internet connection and online interaction with other players. As with Valorant, you can either queue into a lobby solo and get paired up with random teammates or join and play with friends.

Hayes said another game enjoying a resurgence is Minecraft, a creative experience that can be explored alone or with a whole group of friends. The cubic world features both a creative mode — build whatever you can think of — and a survival mode with monsters.

Another game that isn’t strictly multiplayer but came out when the pandemic first started was “Animal Crossing New Horizons,” a Nintendo Switch title that allows players to land on their own tropical island and build it up from scratch, erect structures, decorate, plant flowers, go fishing or socialize with friends on their islands. It’s a game with no particular goal, but during a pandemic that was pretty relaxing, Hayes said.

“We saw a resurgence of party games during COVID,” Hayes said. “‘Fall Guys’ became incredibly popular, ‘Among Us’ is just still super popular – it’s a fun game, and you have the ability to throw up a quick match. I think games allow people to interact in a way that has been absolutely key to surviving mentally in this pandemic, even board games. There was a [trend] going on where people would play board games on Skype.”

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