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Gone to the gamers

Jared Hidber, Recreational Programmer in SAIT's Athletics and Recreation department is bringing eSports to SAIT.

Jared Hidber, Recreational Programmer in SAIT's Athletics and Recreation department is bringing eSports to SAIT.

Of course, Jared Hidber has heard about the roaring success of eSports — about how professional video-gaming is booming across North America.

In fact, he's seen its popularity first-hand after SAIT became one of the first post-secondary schools in Western Canada to host its own eSports intramurals program earlier this year.

"I think it's cool — it's pretty progressive," says Hidber, Recreational Programmer in SAIT's Athletics and Recreation department. "It's looking at recreation differently. It's not your traditional volleyball and basketball. It's something a little bit different."

Breaking ground with eSports

SAIT kicked off its eSports initiative in October with an NHL and FIFA event, followed by a Counter-Strike showcase in November.

"The feedback from participants is that it's cool —that it was set up well, that it was a different option (for recreation)," says Hidber.

The plan is for four on-site tournaments, two in each semester. A Call of Duty event is scheduled for February, while League of Legends is the centrepiece in March.

"Just to feel it out — to see what people are looking for, to see how much response we get," says Hidber. "It's been cool and eye-opening to see these students come out and play and have a good time. That's what we want to do, right?"

Gaming produces social engagement

Hidber is already planning his next steps, looking at the idea of a team representing SAIT at off-campus events such as Collegiate Starleague, a popular eSports league for post-secondary schools across North America.
He's also looking at expanding the offering, moving forward to include an event featuring Overwatch.

While unconventional, Hidber says eSports speaks to the root of intramural sports.

"The whole point of doing this was to give these players a safe space to play, a positive environment — where they could meet people and have social engagement. That was our big push behind doing this," he says.
"It's a different demographic, too, which is cool. For video-gamers, (intramurals are) a whole other world — this is another way to get them to our gym and show them what we have to offer."

Room to grow

He adds the potential of eSports is boundless.

Take, for instance, St. Clair College's story: The school, based in Windsor, ON, boasts an eSports varsity team, complete with scholarships.

"They just had 310 people attend a tryout — for 30 spots," says Hidber. "It's been growing for such a long time, and now the competitiveness is huge. There's a ton of potential, as far as room to grow in the sporting world.

"This is definitely the biggest up-and-coming thing."

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